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California Assembly defeats bill to extend unemployment benefits

The measure would have authorized spending more than $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to provide 20 weeks of extra jobless benefits.

March 17, 2009|Marc Lifsher

SACRAMENTO — After an hours-long partisan debate, Republicans in the state Assembly on Monday defeated a bill that would have authorized spending more than $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to provide 20 weeks of extra unemployment benefits.

The bill would have provided extended benefits this year to an estimated 260,000 jobless Californians, including 74,000 whose unemployment checks are due to run out April 12. They are now eligible for up to 59 weeks of benefits.

The bill, which needed all 51 Democratic votes and at least three from minority GOP members to pass, failed on a tally of 53 to 9.

Many Republicans said they voted no because they wanted more time to analyze the measure to make sure that it would not cost California taxpayers any money.

Democrats countered that the proposal by Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose) had to be rushed through the Assembly and the state Senate and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in time to meet next month's deadline, when about a fourth of the state's chronically unemployed are scheduled to lose benefits.

The state's unemployment insurance program currently pays weekly benefits ranging from a low of $65 to a high of $475.

California's unemployment rate in January hit 10.1%, its highest level in nearly 26 years.

"What's at stake is whether some family eats in a couple of weeks," Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) said during the nearly five hours of debate, political maneuvering and closed party caucuses.

"We all have constituents who are hurt and struggling," conceded Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis, but he stressed that was no reason to pass a bill that might be flawed.

The bill originally also would have provided an additional $839 million in stimulus money to pay benefits to an estimated 30,000 more people. But that was dropped during debate.

The California Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations have questioned whether increased eligibility might raise costs for employers by eventually forcing a hike in payroll taxes.

Assembly Democrats said they would bring the unemployment bill back up for another vote soon.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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