Panel OKs bill to bar unemployment from school bus drivers, seasonal workers

A House committee voted Thursday to forward a bill that will prevent privately-employed school workers from receiving unemployment when school is not in session.

House Bill 714 passed the Industry and Labor Committee by a 6-3 vote. The bill now goes to the Rules Committee to be considered for debate by the full House.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, the bill seeks to close a loophole that cost the state millions last year.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler in 2011 attempted to block the benefits by agency rule, but the federal government threatened to pull additional millions in federal funding. The state had to pay qualified workers $8 million in back benefits.

Hamilton and Butler say the private companies that employ the affected workers, including school bus drivers, often game the system. The companies pay their employees on a 9-month schedule and encourage them to apply for unemployment to make up the difference.

Opponents, including labor unions, say workers should not suffer for the mistakes or bad behavior of their employers.