Bill changing Oklahoma unemployment benefits process advances to House

Oklahoma House Bill 1911, which requires terminated employees to prove they weren't fired for misconduct in order to receive unemployment benefits, passed a legislative committee Wednesday.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 14, 2013

A measure that requires terminated employees to prove they weren't fired for misconduct such as willfully disregarding regulations or chronic absenteeism in order to receive unemployment benefits passed a legislative committee Wednesday.

Backers said House Bill 1911 would cut down on fraud, which would result in more benefits being available for the state's unemployed.

Opponents said the measure, written by The State Chamber and others with business interests, would make it harder for the unemployed to receive money for food and housing costs.

The House of Representatives Economic Development and Financial Services Committee voted 8-4 to pass HB 1911. The vote was along party lines with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. The bill now goes to the full House.

“This bill is a setup,” said Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, a committee member, calling the bill, by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, a “piece of trash.”

Morrissette said unemployment benefits are needed for rent and food.

“That's a lifeline,” he said. “Those people live on those benefits.”

Misconduct affidavit

Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who presented the measure for the speaker, said workers now may be fired for intentional wrongdoing.

The terminated employee would have to sign an affidavit stating he or she didn't commit misconduct as defined in the bill in order to receive unemployment benefits.

The measure does not affect workers involved in layoffs or business closings.

Now, unemployed workers file immediately for benefits with the state Employment Security Commission. An administrative judge eventually presides over a hearing to determine eligibility.

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