For more than a month now the U.S. Senate has been unable to pass a bill that would allow people who lost their jobs in the recession to continue collecting unemployment for up to 99 weeks rather than the standard 46 weeks. According to the Huffington Post, 1.2 million unemployed Americans have stopped getting checks since the extension expired at the end of May. Here a state extension gives people an additional 20 weeks after federal benefits end, so the checks won't stop until September.
The debate got us thinking about how Dino Rossi might vote on unemployment based on his record as a legislator here.
By 2003, Rossi's final year in the legislature, he had risen to the chair of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, charged with creating the budget. From there he joined his fellow Senate Republicans in fighting for a massive overhaul of the state unemployment program.
In a special session that year legislators passed a bill making it harder to qualify for unemployment if you quit your job, changing the way unemployment payments are calculated to make them smaller, and dramatically reducing the amount of money seasonal workers can get. Several Democrats, including Governor Gary Locke, backed the changes, much to the chagrin of labor unions.
That wasn't the only time Rossi voted to cut back eligibility for state unemployment and other welfare benefits. WorkFirst is Washington's welfare-to-work program requiring jobless (or very low-income) parents to spend 30 hours per week learning new skills or applying for new employment.
In 1999 state Democrats sought an exception for moms with kids under age 1, in part due to the difficulty of finding affordable child care. The bill had broad support, even getting an "aye" from the notoriously far-right, and late, Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane. But Rossi and 10 other Republicans voted against the bill, which later died in the House.
Rossi did also vote to expand unemployment eligibility. He cast one ballot in favor of expanding unemployment benefits. In 2001 he voted in favor of allowing people forced to leave their jobs due to a stalker or the threat of domestic violence to collect unemployment.