Last year is ended on a high note, at least in terms of one economic indicator: the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent in December. Despite that good news, many states are still experiencing record unemployment; this rampant unemployment was the number one issue addressed by state legislatures this past year. Here is a brief look some key issues state legislatures tackled in 2011:
- In an effort to modernize and update their programs, as well to pull down available federal funds, several states overhauled their unemployment compensation laws.
- Maine and Pennsylvania added work-sharing laws.
- New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and New York passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against the unemployed when hiring. A proposed federal law is also pending in both the House and Senate.
- Several states and municipalities passed laws addressing wage law violations.
- The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Arizona’s mandatory E-Verify provisions in Chamber of Commerce v Whiting paved the way for similar laws in several states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Louisiana. Legal challenges to enforcement of these laws are still pending in several states.
- The list of states prohibiting employers from basing hiring, firing, promotion, and other employment decisions on an employee or job applicant’s credit history continued to grow this year with new laws passed in Maryland, Connecticut, and California.
- Wisconsin, Indiana, Maine, North Dakota, and Texas passed laws preventing employers from putting certain restrictions on employees’ carrying of weapons (for example, barring employees from having weapons in their personal work vehicles while parked in the employer’s parking lot).
- Delaware passed a law allowing the use of medical marijuana, while several other states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania, considered but did not pass similar bills. Montana and Washington both passed laws that clarify medical marijuana provisions as they relate to the workplace.