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Georgia's anti-picketing bill, SB 469, was not passed by the state House before the end of the legislative session at midnight on March 29. That means the bill, which was written by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and amended repeatedly as opposition grew, is dead.

While that's cause for celebration, the Georgia legislature did pass other key bills taking aim at unemployed people, welfare applicants and unions. Most welfare applicants will now be subjected to drug tests, because that's gone so well in all the other states that have tried it in the past year, between laws being struck down by the courts and costing states money in reimbursements for the vast, vast majority of applicants who test clean.

The state also gutted its unemployment insurance program. Georgia owes the federal government more than $730 million it borrowed in recent years and has to figure out a way to make that up. Republican legislators' solution? Cut unemployment insurance benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 14 weeks, and a maximum of 20. This is the rare measure that does include something of a raise in unemployment insurance taxes on businesses, which could make the measure sound like a compromise if you don't consider that:

At the start of the last decade, Georgia businesses enjoyed a $1.3 billion tax cut courtesy of a four-year “tax holiday” – the largest unemployment tax cut in U.S. history.  In addition, the state has suppressed an automatic surcharge on tax rates needed to replenish the low trust fund balance every year since 2003.  Georgia’s state UI tax is already one of the nation’s lowest (contributions ranked 47th nationally in 2011) with four out of ten employers paying only the annual minimum of $3 per employee.
So businesses got years of huge tax breaks, and then when that created a massive debt that needed to be repaid, Republican legislators deemed it a fair compromise that businesses pay a modest increase while unemployed people, already facing "the stingiest benefit formula in the country with regards to weeks of eligibility," take huge cuts. The state's unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, above the national level, so more than a few people will suffer as a result of this.

Additionally, a bill prohibiting union-friendly Project Labor Agreements passed, "even though Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston, the bill’s sponsor could not produce a single case of that ever happening."

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 07:16 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kos Georgia and Daily Kos.

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