Government & Politics

Missouri will implement jobless benefit cuts while lawsuit seeks halt

The Associated Press

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks during a news conference in his office following the end of the legislative session in May.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks during a news conference in his office following the end of the legislative session in May. AP

JEFERSON CITY, Mo. – Despite raising concerns, Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration is planning to implement legislation cutting Missouri’s unemployment benefits to one of the shortest periods nationally.

Until now, Nixon has declined to say whether he actually would carry out the measure that was passed last month when the Republican-led Senate voted to override the Democratic governor’s veto.

Spokespeople for Nixon’s office and his labor department confirmed in separate statements to the Associated Press this week that the administration plans to abide by the bill’s directive to begin cutting benefits in January – unless blocked by a court.

The legislation links the duration of Missouri’s benefits to the unemployment rate, providing less whenever a lower percentage of the workforce is without jobs.

If Missouri’s statewide unemployment rate remains below 6 percent, benefits would be cut from the current 20 weeks – which already is one of the shorter periods nationally – to as few as 13 weeks.

That would be lower than every state except North Carolina, where benefits currently are capped at 12 weeks under a similar sliding scale.

A lawsuit filed by a firm that works for the AFL-CIO asks the Cole County Circuit Court to declare the measure unconstitutional and issue an injunction against enforcing it. No hearing has been scheduled for the lawsuit, which cites the timing of the Legislature’s votes.

After Nixon vetoed the bill, the House voted in May to override him.

But the Senate failed to act before the regular session ended May 15, instead waiting until a September session to complete the override. The lawsuit asserts the bill wasn’t eligible under the Missouri Constitution to be considered during the September session because it was vetoed far enough in advance of the end of the regular session.

Nixon previously raised similar concerns. Former Missouri Chief Justice Michael Wolff, who now is dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law, also previously told the AP that he believes the Senate missed its window to act.

“While serious questions remain unresolved over whether the legislature missed its opportunity to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 150, the department intends to implement the legislation while it monitors the pending litigation,” Lauren Schad, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said in an email to the AP.

Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who is planning to run for governor next year to succeed the term-limited Nixon, had not previously taken a position on whether the cuts were legally enacted.

Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Thursday that the attorney general’s office will defend the department’s decision to implement the cuts.

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