A bill currently working its way through the Legislature would change how and when unemployment benefits are distributed as the state attempts to address fraudulent use of the system.
LD 1725 would prevent workers from collecting unemployment benefits while they are receiving unused vacation pay and decrease the number of weeks unemployed workers must look for work from 12 to 10, according to the Bangor Daily News. It also levies consequences for fraud, including a "three strikes" clause and aligning the Employment Security Law with the Maine Criminal Code. The bill was amended on its way through the Senate on Wednesday, with senators adding a provision to allow workers to receive their first four weeks of earned vacation pay without it affecting their unemployment benefits. Both the House and Senate have given the bill their initial approval, but the measure still requires additional votes.
Sponsored by Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, the bill originated from the governor's office and split the Legislature and labor committee down party lines. In its first lap through the Legislature, the bill passed the Senate 18-16 and the House 75-71, with all Democrats voting against the measure.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, called the bill "unfair and arbitrary," since the measure treats laid-off workers differently based on whether or not they've used their vacation days. Jackson also noted that Maine ranks as the fifth lowest in the nation in unemployment fraud.