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SPECIAL SESSION TO ADDRESS JOBLESS BENEFITS LAW

Oct. 24, 2003 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has called the Legislature into special session on Tuesday to correct an error in recently enacted unemployment benefits legislation which is depriving some beneficiaries of their checks and to eliminate a dependent's allowance in the territory's jobless benefits law.
Nine senators submitted a petition to Senate President David Jones on Thursday asking him to call a session for Oct. 31 — next Friday — to correct the error in the legislation. However, Jones did them one better, and he and Turnbull jointly called the session for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Four of the 10 majority senators — Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell — joined the five minority senators — Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Usie Richards and Celestino A. White Sr. — in signing the petition. (See "Senators: Error in law halts jobless benefits".)
The legislation in question was signed into law in May, extending unemployment benefit for an additional 13 weeks. The measure stated that "no additional benefits shall be paid after Aug. 30, 2003." Jn Baptiste said the wording should have read that "no new additional benefit claims shall be effective after Aug. 30, 2003."
In his cover letter to Jones on Friday, Turnbull quoted the law as saying: "No additional benefits shall be paid to any person after January 4, 2003." He continued: "However, I have been informed that there are unemployed workers who are entitled to unemployment benefits beyond this date but who are being precluded from receiving them because of this Code section."
The governor recommended that the date be amended to provide for a transition period "for the continuation of payments to individuals who have additional benefit balances as of Aug. 30, 2003, through November 2003."
Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, had said payments were being halted to some 540 unemployment beneficiaries.
Turnbull also wants the Senate to eliminate a $25 dependent's allowance in unemployment benefits that was approved in the same legislation. The act will increase benefits to 80 per cent of the average weekly wage from the current 65 percent in January. With that increase, Turnbull said, the additional $25 allowance "will place a drain on the Unemployment Insurance Fund and jeopardize its solvency."
The governor said Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin and members of his staff will attend the Senate session and be available to answer questions.
Jones did not return calls on Friday. There were unconfirmed reports that the Senate majority and Turnbull held a lengthy Fiscal Year 2004 budget meeting during the day at Government House. The majority and the governor's financial team met on Monday in one of a series of budget meetings that have been conducted over the last week.
The fiscal year began Oct. 1. Jones said last week that he expected to get a budget to the Senate floor by "about mid-November."

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