Last fall I traveled the state from Mountain City to Memphis on my Red Tape Tour, looking for ways to make job creation easier. I heard a recurring theme from business owners on every stop of the tour. Of all the state rules and regulations stifling job creation, complaints about Tennessee’s unemployment system dominated the conversation.
Contrary to the insistence of the Left, the vast majority of business owners do not enjoy laying off workers. I’ve done it myself. It is a heartbreaking act for all concerned. But sometimes decisions have to be made for the good of a business — so that only a few people lose their jobs rather than the scores of people laid off when a company collapses.
In this time of national economic uncertainty, it is hard to put capital at risk to own and operate a business. Government has an obligation to do no harm and create an environment where business can thrive and keep people employed.
No employer begrudges an employee collecting unemployment insurance (UI) when s/he has been let go through no fault of their own. Times are tough, people are hurting and sometimes the next job is not waiting just around the corner. That’s what our unemployment system is for: to serve as a bridge from one opportunity to the next.
Some however seek to abuse the system. We took aim at that abuse in the unemployment reform package we passed this session, the anchor of which is the Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012.
Our aim was simple: Make sure everyone who is entitled to unemployment insurance continues to receive it and remove from the system those who do not deserve benefits.
One of the ways we did this was by strengthening the definition of misconduct. Strengthening the definition of employee misconduct ensures that those who have been fired for cause — theft, willful negligence, disregard of written policy — no longer receive benefits.
Our reform also enacts new work search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries. Those collecting benefits must provide detailed information regarding contact with at least three employers per week or access services at a career center. Our reform also requires audits to ensure the integrity of job searches.
We also — and I realize this is a drastic step — make it illegal to collect unemployment benefits while incarcerated.
I wish I was joking but we actually found cases of people on unemployment while receiving full room and board for violating the laws of the state.
These are reasonable, common sense reforms that bring the system in line with what most Tennesseans expect it to be.
These reforms not only protect business owners from abuse of a system they pay for — it benefits job seekers as well.
Nothing cures a society’s social and economic ills like full employment. A man or woman receives not only economic remuneration from work but a significant amount of spiritual fulfillment. The sense of self-worth that a job brings to an individual cannot be overestimated.
Losing a job can be debilitating mentally. The urge to withdraw from all other aspects of life while unemployed can be compelling. I believe we do the unemployed a disservice by simply cutting them a check with few strings attached.
This reform encourages accountability by those on unemployment. It assures that they remain engaged in the job hunt and use the assistance of state career centers to get back into the job market.
While the media focused on saggy pants and evolution – issues legislators spent little time on – the people’s legislature was focused on important work like UI reform.
This unemployment reform helps job creators stay in business and aids the unemployed in their job search while protecting taxpayers from fraud and abuse.
This is conservative government in action.
An abridged form of this column appeared in the Nashville Tennessean.
Filed Under: Uncategorized