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Middleton: unemployment insurance changes coming… eventually

For those of you who thought the unemployment insurance issue was behind you, think again.

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and lawmaker who hammered together the UI compromise last year, said he’s preparing for negotiations between business and labor interests to up weekly unemployment insurance benefits. It appears the issue could be on the back burner this session, with health care and wind power taking up the lion’s share of the committee’s time.

“We’re gathering information now,” Middleton said of the UI issue.

As part of the deal reached last year, business and labor groups agreed to find a way to bump up the maximum weekly benefit up to 54 percent of the average weekly wage in the state. To balance that increase, that group will have to find a way to shrink the pool of unemployed workers who receive benefits.

That issue of cost neutrality was at the center negotiations last year, with business groups seeking cost reductions to balance the expansion of benefits Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed to win the state $127 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

On a side note, I’ll be dusting off my @TDRNick twitter handle to shoot out observations from the session, interesting tidbits and hints about what you’ll find in the next day’s dead tree edition of The Daily Record. So, follow me there or my feelings will be hurt.