House Public Health

Feb. 7, 2023


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Rep L Johnson Chair sees a quorum. We’ll call this meeting to order. Good morning to everybody. House Bill 1173, we’re going to move that to the deferred list. House Bill 1197, Representative Underwood, are you here and prepared to present your bill? You’re welcome to sit at the end of the table and present your bill.


HB 1197 Removes a week of unemployment pay if someone ‘ghosts’ a job interview

Rep Underwood Thank you, committee. Kendon Underwood, District 16. This is my interview ghosting– prohibition on interview ghosting. Alternatively, if any of you are Seinfeld fans, this is also my Vandalay Industry bill. There’s an episode where George is trying to get out of getting a job and trying to continue to get his unemployment benefits and he pretends like he has an interview with Vandalay industry. So this is to prevent those bad actors. Currently, according to State Chamber, we have approximately 60,000 unfilled jobs in the workforce currently. And right now you can drive any almost anywhere and see help wanted signs. And despite mixed economic news at the national level, employers in Arkansas are looking to grow and expand. But a huge obstacle to economic growth in Arkansas is access to ready and willing workers. Currently, there are ten open jobs in Arkansas for every one person applying for unemployment benefits. 

But fortunately, there’s things we can do as policymakers like promote employment and boost our state workforce. Arkansas’ UI program provides temporary financial assistance to recently unemployed workers through no fault of their own who find themselves without a job. While federal law establishes broad program parameters and requires all unemployment claimants to be able and available to work, the enforcement of that requirement is left up to the states. In Arkansas, we require claimants to look for work to be eligible for weekly unemployment benefits. Benefits are suspended if a claimant fails to look for work or turns down a job offer from an employer. 

Unfortunately, across the country, we’ve seen a rise in the number of people who simply never respond to employers’ offers for employment. They may not turn down the job. They just don’t respond, ghosting an employer and leaving them in the dark as to what happened. In other instances, prospective workers simply skip interviews, not bothering to show up, though they submit a resume and schedule the interview. And this occurred, according to USA Today, this has been a problem prior to 2018. And it was just worse after the pandemic with some of the things that were coming down from the federal government. 

So basically what this bill does is it addresses this emerging loopholes in unemployment insurance programs by prohibiting ghosting. Any claimant who fails to respond to an offer of unemployment or who skips a previously scheduled job interview loses a week of UI benefit eligibility. It’s simple. If you aren’t going to work or make an effort to find a job in response to a job offer of employment, you don’t get the benefits for that week. I also will point out that nothing in this legislation changes existing provisions that requires the claimant to accept offered work. The definition of suitable work and the current process for conducting a work search is not touched by this bill. And finally, I’ll say I’ve worked with the State Chamber, the grocers and the Division of Workforce Services on making a slight amendment to the bill. With that amendment, they’re in favor of this bill at this time. And with that, I’m happy to try to answer any questions.


Rep L Johnson Are there any questions from the committee? Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Gonzales Thank you, Mr. Chair. So it looks like currently the law says that the director can completely disqualify an applicant from unemployment benefits if they don’t accept a job, if they don’t apply for a job they don’t accept a job. Is that kind of just unenforceable? Is that what we’re doing this or are we just not doing that now? And it looks like your bill even backtracks that. So you’re just disqualifying them for that week if they don’t follow through with this, right?


Rep Underwood Right. That’s correct. So they’re required to look for a job. I want to make sure– please correct me if I don’t answer your question– they’re required to look for a job. The problem that we’ve had and we’ve seen is a lot of people will schedule these interviews and then they’ve looked for a job that met the work search requirement activity, but they don’t actually show up to any interviews at all. And so this is basically giving a tool for employers to submit this through an online portal that we already have and say this person’s not shown up to this interview. They’ve done that repeatedly and you wouldn’t lose your benefits completely. You just lose it for the week that you weren’t searching for that work, trying to get a job, essentially. I don’t know if that answered your question or not.


Rep Gonzales Yes, somewhat, but I mean, I guess right now, so if that person didn’t respond for an interview, is that not the same as not accepting the job?


Rep Underwood Well, I mean, they would never actually get offered a job because they wouldn’t show up to the job interview.


Rep Gonzales Okay. So it’s somewhat unenforceable then currently. This is just adding some type of enforcement mechanism. Okay. Thank you.


Rep L Johnson Representative Ladyman, you’re recognized.


Rep Ladyman Thank you, Mr. Chair. Maybe it’s in the bill here, but I don’t see it. But so if someone’s scheduled for an interview and they have good reason for not showing up, is there a way that they can not lose the pay?


Rep Underwood Yes. I’m glad you brought that up. Actually, I think it’s maybe on the second page of the bill, there is a provision about rescheduling the interview. So they have the ability, if something comes up, you have an emergency or something, you can reschedule that interview and it wouldn’t be penalizing you for that.


Rep Ladyman Okay. Thanks.


Rep Underwood Thank you for the question.


Rep L Johnson Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Wardlaw I actually really like this idea. I just, I too, want to follow Representative Gonzales’ questioning. I just hope that a week is enough to get their attention, because what we see is people come by and they apply and apply and you can’t get them to come back and it just seems like we could go further than a week. I’m going to support your bill. I’m going to vote for it. I’m all in. I just wish that there– is there reason we can’t go more than a week? I mean, did the department ask you not to do more than a week? I mean, what where did you come up with this at?


Rep Underwood No. And I mean, I appreciate that sentiment. I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to trying to strengthen it, but I guess I would just say on that, I mean, if they repeatedly say that week after week after week, they’re going to continue to lose those benefits. So I think you lose it for a week and then the next week you’re back working to get a job, then that’s fine. You put your back to it.


Rep Wardlaw But it is also going to take an employer that will report that missed interview right? So, I mean, we’re kind of asking everybody to participate in the program to be sure and penalize them for that week. Am I reading that correctly?


Rep Underwood No, you’re right. That was the amendment I made. Originally I had a provision that said employers ‘shall’ report this, and I changed that to a ‘may’ because I didn’t want to put any burdens on employers. So this way it gives a tool for employers to follow this process if they would like to. And like I mentioned, the State Chamber, after I made that change, they were in support of this bill. So I guess I’m just trying to fix a re-occurring problem we have the best that I can, take some steps in the right direction. And, Representative Wardlaw, I do appreciate it. If there’s anything we can do to make it better or to do something down the road to strengthen it, I’m all for that. Thank you.


Rep L Johnson Any other questions from the committee? Representative Allen, you’re recognized for a question. I think you beat him. It was close. It was tight.


Rep Allen Tie goes to Fred.


Rep L Johnson There we go.


Rep. Allen: Evidence of ‘ghosting?’

Rep Allen Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My question to you is do we have any real evidence and proof of ghosting?


Rep Underwood Well, I don’t have stats or anything, but I would say just from talking to employers and talking with the state chamber and those type people, I think, yes, absolutely. We have have re-occurring instances of people who consistently don’t show up to interviews when they, after they schedule them.


Rep Allen So we actually don’t have anything in writing to substantiate that. That’s my question.


Rep Underwood Are you asking me if I have any documentation to provide you of that?


Rep Allen Yeah. So either, not just you, because you probably wouldn’t, but I’m talking about does the employers have any real documentation that can fully demonstrate that we are actually having the form of ghosting?


Rep Underwood Yeah. I mean, I don’t have that for you.


Rep Allen I know you wouldn’t.


Rep Underwood Yeah. I will read this for you, though. And I skipped over this in my interview just for the sake of time. This is from USA Today in 2018, so this is prior to the pandemic. And they said a growing number of applicants are ghosting their jobs, blowing off scheduled job interviews, accepting offers, but not showing up the first day and even vanishing from existing positions, all without giving notice. That’s a quote directly from USA Today in 2018.


Rep Allen Yeah, but that was from 2018, so.


Rep Underwood Correct.


Rep Allen We’re in 2021, so I guess what you’re saying. 2023–I’m sorry. I’m worse than–


Rep Underwood Yeah, I’m with you.


Rep Allen But I guess what I’m saying is that I was hoping that we had some evidence other than something that happened in 2018.


Rep Underwood Sure. And so I would just say that I think the problem has gotten worse since the pandemic. And I think we’ve all seen evidence of that or we’ve talked to constituents in our district or business owners in our district who’ve expressed those concerns. So I know I certainly have. So I believe that the situation has gotten worse since 2018 and the problem still persists. But even if that’s still the case, this at least allows a level of accountability to ensure that we don’t have that problem again.


Rep L Johnson Representative Allen, we have several others lined up. I’ll put you back in the queue. Representative Ferguson, you have a question? You’re recognized.


Rep K Ferguson Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Underwood, I notice in the bill there there’s a procedure already in place for the Department of Workforce Services to figure out whether the information that they were receiving from the employer is accurate or not. Would you happen to know kind of what that procedure is or maybe somebody from Workforce Services could tell me? Yeah, I ask that question because, in my previous life, when I was HR director, sometimes I would have problems with department heads giving out information that effected an applicant adversely instead of going through my office, and I had to correct it. So I know there’s a procedure, but I don’t remember quite in the law what it is now. Yeah.


Rep Underwood Yeah. I appreciate that question as well. There is a procedure. I probably am not the best person to give you the ins and outs of that procedure. I will say this bill obviously codifies that and gives, codifies that portal, that online portal they have and allows them to to verify that. But I will tell you that Division of Workforce Services worked with me on this and they are supportive of it. And I don’t know if they’re here or not, but if they may be able to lend some additional information on that if they are, so.


Rep K Ferguson Mr. Chair, if, can I ask if anyone from the Division of Workforce Services is here that can answer that question?


Rep L Johnson Yes. If you do come to the table and introduced yourself to the committee.


Department of Workforce Services procedures

Childers DWS Good morning. Cherise Childers, Director of Division of Workforce Services.


Rep L Johnson You’re recognized.


Childers DWS I understand the question is, is there a procedure that we currently have in place for employers to report individuals that have failed to report to work? Is that correct?


Rep K Ferguson Yes, that’s correct.


Childers DWS Okay. Yes, we do have a procedure for that. There’s an online form where the employer may report that information to the agency and then they obviously don’t know if that person is receiving unemployment benefits or not. So then we determine out of those that are reported from the employer how many of those are receiving unemployment benefits. And then we follow up on those cases where they are receiving unemployment benefits with the issues that you’ve discussed here in this committee.


Rep K Ferguson One follow up, Mr. Chair. So, Dr. Childers, does the agency take the word of the employer specifically?


Childers DWS What we would normally do on any unemployment issue where an individual has or has not completed the requirements, we would talk to the employer and to the individual receiving unemployment benefits. So there would be a process in order where in order for us to determine any conditions that might allow them to have exceptions, as you all have mentioned earlier. So we follow up with the employer and the employee– and the job seeker.


Rep K Ferguson Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep L Johnson Representative Gonzales, you have a question?


Rep Gonzales Yeah, thank you, Mr. Chair. You just asked one of them. But on on page two, lines three through five: “If found by the director Division of Workforce Services, an individual shall be disqualified if he or she has failed without good cause.” Is good cause defined anywhere? Or do you just decide what good cause is?


Childers DWS No. Good cause is defined by unemployment law by the United States Department of Labor.


Rep Gonzales Okay. Thank you.


Rep L Johnson Representative Rose, you’re recognized for a question. Okay. Representative Ladyman, you’re recognized.


Rep Ladyman Thank you, Dr. Childers, do you get a lot of this information from employers where they report that people didn’t show up? I know you probably can’t come up with a number, but I mean, do they do that quite often, very often?


Childers DWS We do. We do keep up with that information. Last number that I had was 145 unique employers. So obviously, that’s not all of our employers in the state of Arkansas. And so the ‘May’ will allow those employers to that are reporting this to continue, and we hope that it will encourage those that haven’t been to report that information.


Rep L Johnson Representative Allen, you’re recognized for your question.


Rep Allen Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m glad to see you here, Dr. Childers.


Childers DWS Thank you.


Rep Allen There seems to be a number of job vacancies in the state of Arkansas. I think Representative Underwood said it was 60,000 vacancies. Is there any reason why people are not applying for work or is this post-pandemic or pre-pandemic? What’s the reason?


Childers DWS Well, I will say just anecdotally that the information that we had prior to the pandemic, there were approximately same amount of jobs that were open. What we’re seeing now is that individuals have chosen not to go back to work or they’re being more selective on the job that they’re applying for or being offered. They’re taking into account a lot of different things that we didn’t have before the pandemic. So I think it’s more challenging now than it was before the pandemic because employers are demanding more things like remote work, for example. And so we’re hearing the same thing that you’re hearing and what’s being reported on national news. I mean, it’s across the country. But as far as any specifics, the specific data that we have from job seekers, it’s all based on hearsay speculation. And then what they’re, what they are telling telling us, possibly, in an audit.


Rep L Johnson Representative Gonzalez, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Gonzales Thank you. Mr.Chair. So you just brought up more questions for me on the good cause, because you’re saying that these employees are being picky about the applications that they’re accepting. So what are some of those reasons that would fall under that good cause that they could not accept a job offer? You said remote work. Is that good cause? Because an employer doesn’t offer remote work, they can not accept?


Childers DWS Representative Gonzalez, I was speaking to why people aren’t applying for the jobs at all, not  necessarily those that are receiving unemployment benefits. I can definitely send you the information regarding good cause. But to be clear, I was just speaking on why people aren’t applying for jobs in general, not necessarily those receiving unemployment benefits.


Rep Gonzales Okay. So that would not be good cause then, if they don’t offer remote work?


Childers DWS I’m not prepared to define good cause. I didn’t bring that law with me and those definitions, but I’ll be glad to send that to this committee if you would like that.


Rep Underwood Now, if I might add, I just say that I appreciate those questions. I will say the good cause item is already in law and it’s not something that’s being changed in my bill.


Rep Gonzales But yeah, I understand. I appreciate that. I just wonder, can we change it? Because I’d like to see that just struck out completely.


Rep Underwood We can discuss that. Maybe I can work with you on it. 


Rep L Johnson Is anyone here to speak against or for the bill? Seeing no one, what’s the will of the committee? Are you closed for your bill, Representative Underwood?


Rep Underwood I’m closed. I greatly appreciate the questions and thoughtfulness.


Rep L Johnson And thank you. And we have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? All those in favor say aye. All those opposed. The ayes have it. Congratulations, Representative Underwood, you passed your bill.


Rep Underwood Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Committee. Appreciate you guys.


Rep L Johnson Members, we’re going to pass over House Bill 1115, and we’ll proceed to Senate Bill 6. I think that Representative Wardlaw stepped out. He was going to present that bill. How about we go to Representative Tosh? Are you here Representative Tosh? So Representative Tosh, are you prepared to present House Bill 1340?


Rep Tosh I am, Mr. Chair


Rep L Johnson You’re recognized to present your bill.


HB 1340 Waive disability income from SNAP considerations for combat vets

Rep Tosh Thank you, Mr. Chair. Committee members, I bring to you today House Bill 1340. As many of you on this committee know a lot of bills that we run as legislators are issues that are brought to us from some of our constituents. And this is exactly what generated this piece of legislation. I had a combat veteran that contacted me. He was trying to– he was in combat. His vehicle ran up on a mine and he ended up being paralyzed from the waist down. And many of us know story after story like that concerning our combat veterans. But what he ran into, his wife had to give him full time care. He had three kids. And so he applied through the SNAP program to try to get some help with food stamps. But he was denied or disqualified from that because his monthly income exceeded the amount that federal government allows you to make to be able to qualify for that program. So I worked with DHS and we looked at it and of course it’s a federal program and really not anything we could do here at the state level to correct that. So in corresponding with DHS and trying to get their guidance and advice as to what we could do to address this issue, the only option we felt like we had was to ask the federal government for a waiver not to count the disability income for our combat veterans against their total monthly amount that would disqualify them or qualify them for the SNAP program. So what this bill will do, it will allow DHS, they’ll have legislative authority if we pass this bill. It will allow them to make a request to the federal government to seek a waiver to not count a combat veteran’s disability check against them when they apply for the food stamp program.


Rep L Johnson Members, do we have any questions from the committee? Representative Rose, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Rose At the proper time, make a motion do pass.


Rep L Johnson Representative Ferguson, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep D Ferguson Thank you, Mr. Chairman. SNAP is 100% federal money, so have there been any other states that have had this kind of waiver approved to use federal funds?


Rep Tosh No, it is, and you’re correct, it is 100% federal program. And to my knowledge, I don’t have any knowledge of another state that’s already tried to seek this waiver. That’s the reason I kept this bill narrow in scope. I know it’s a difficult. I know it’s a long shot. But, you know, these veterans took a shot for us, so I’m willing to take a shot for them.


Rep D Ferguson Could I ask a follow up? Are you asking also to waive time frames? You know, like for, you know, regularly they would make someone without children only qualify for like three months of SNAP. Are you going to ask for a waiver on the amount of time they can stay on SNAP as well? Are you just asking for a waiver and it’s undefined at this point?


Rep Tosh We’re asking for a waiver undefined at this point just to to make sure that the disability check is not counted against him and doesn’t disqualify him.


Rep D Ferguson Regardless of how much disability they make? Because, I mean, some veterans make a significant amount of money on disability, but.


Rep Tosh Regardless of the disability amount. If your other income puts them over that amount, then obviously they wouldn’t qualify. So it’s just to eliminate the disability they receive from a combat injury.


Rep D Ferguson Regardless of the amount.


Rep Tosh Regardless.


Rep D Ferguson Thank you.


Rep L Johnson Representative Perry, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Perry Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Tosh, if they apply, if the waiver is granted for the SNAP program, will that also allow them to qualify for a medical savings program, Medicare savings program?


Rep Tosh I guess it would have to be that we just have to see what DHS asks for in the waiver. Right now, the conversations I’ve had with DHS have been just ask for the waiver to not count the disability check against them in their request for SNAP.


Rep Perry Okay. All right. Thank you.


Rep Tosh All right.


Rep L Johnson Seeing no further questions, is anyone here signed up to speak for or against the bill? Representative Tosh, you’re recognized to close for your bill.


Rep Tosh Mr. Chairman, I’m closed with the bill. Committee, I appreciate a good vote.


Rep L Johnson Wishes of the committee? Motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? All those in favor say aye. Opposed? Seeing none, you’ve passed your bill, Representative Tosh. Congratulations.


Rep Tosh Thank you, Mr. Chair. Committee, thank you.


Rep L Johnson Representative Wardlaw, are you prepared to present Senate Bill 6? I’ve got faith in you. You’re recognized to present Senate Bill 6.


SB 6 Creates a lifetime contractor’s license for older Arkansans

Rep Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chair. Zack, this is where you can whistle. So members, Senate Bill 6 is pretty simple. It’s a little less than a half page. It just says once a contractor reaches age 65, if they’ve been in business no less than 12 years, that they qualify them for a lifetime license of $65. Just gives them immunity from the test and immunity from the annual requirements. I think we owe it to those people that are still out there working to make it less red tape and easier to keep a license and keep going and working for our good constituents in Arkansas. With that, I’d answer any questions.


Rep L Johnson Representative Ladyman, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Ladyman Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Wardlaw, I mean, how would you determine that 12 year period? And do you have to be actively being a contractor, or could you have had a contractor license back in the ’80s and you hadn’t done it in a while and you can go plan for this and get it now?


Rep Wardlaw No, sir. The way I read the bill is an active license, kept active for 12 years consecutively. And it’d have to be consecutive to the time you turn 65. You can’t just go.


Rep Ladyman But if you had it consecutive for 12 years back in 1990, wouldn’t this apply?


Rep Wardlaw I think it would.


Rep Ladyman Okay, that’s my question. Thank you.


Rep L Johnson Representative Gonzales, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Gonzales Thank you, Mr. Chair. My question is, is starting on line 34 that they have to maintain the bonds and workman’s comp and all that stuff. Do they have to report to the contractor board that they’ve kept up with all that annually? Or if they decide that they don’t want to do that, do they surrender their license, their lifetime license? Do you have any idea how that works?


Rep Wardlaw I’m not sure practically how it works, but they would be liable if they let it drop and they kept performing the duties of a contractor without the bond. So if they went to your house and they had a lifetime license and they did not have the bond, then when you complained on to the board, they would absolutely be liable for all that work. But I’m not sure how the reporting process works. Representative Evans couldn’t be in here today, so I told him I’d run the bill for him.


Rep Gonzales Okay. Yeah. I mean, I just wonder about some of that, how that’s going to play out, how they’re held liable for those things. If they are out there performing contract work without them, how are they held accountable for it?


Rep Wardlaw I’ll get you that answer.


Rep L Johnson Representative Allen, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Allen Thank you. Let me see if I can help you out. I’m actually a contractor. In order to maintain–


Rep Wardlaw And you’re over the age of 65, right?  (Laughter)


Rep Allen It applies to me. That’s a good one.


Rep Wardlaw I’m here for you.


Rep Allen Okay. One of the requirements with the contractor’s board is that in order to have a valid license, contractor’s license, you have to maintain your general liability insurance. You also have to have your workman’s comp insurance and your bonds. You have to have your bonds. So the contractors board will know if you have that or not, because you have to turn that into them and then they will validate your license and then they will issue your license. And every year when you renew your license you have to do this, repeat the process again. So there are some checks and balances. So just the average person can’t say, well, I have my contractors license. You have to meet the requirements also.


Rep L Johnson You’re recognized, Representative Gonzales.


Rep Gonzales Yeah. So again, I mean, that’s my concern because right now the checks and balances are that the contractor board won’t renew that license. They won’t reissue that license. But here we’re saying we’re giving them a lifetime license. Why would the contractor’s board follow back up on that if it’s a lifetime license? How does that reporting go down? That’s what I’m wondering.


Rep L Johnson Yeah. So I have a question. As I read the bill, Representative Wardlaw, I don’t see that it changes any of the regulatory checks and balances that are in place, and only it only waives that annual fee. So my assumption is that the requirement to report liability and all the insurance requirements would still be there. And the ability for the board to revoke a lifetime license doesn’t change in how I read the language.


Rep Wardlaw I just texted and that’s same answer I got. If you look, it actually names out those statutes in line 2 on the second page. So it doesn’t change the reporting or the requirements. It only changes the fact that you’re not paying an annual fee.


Rep L Johnson Any other questions from the committee? Seeing none, is anyone here to speak for or against the bill? Representative Wardlaw, are you closed for the bill?


Rep Wardlaw I am closed, and I’ll make a motion do pass.


Rep L Johnson Motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? All those in favor say aye. All those opposed?


Rep Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chair, and Committee.


Rep L Johnson Congratulations. You passed the bill. Committee, I think that completes our business for today. We’re going to have a pretty busy day Thursday. We’re going to have at least six bills, I think, on the agenda for Thursday to run. But I also think we’ll be able to get through all those bills because I have a lot of faith and confidence in our ability to do the good work. So as far as timing of the meeting, we’ve been meeting at 11 as the House as a whole. If we meet it 11, looking at the bills, there’s a chance that we might meet earlier than 10. So just kind of stay tuned and we’ll look at that depending on how much more bills fall to the agenda. I’d like to try to hear as many bills as we can on Thursday. And so just kind of keep an eye out for the timing of the meeting and we’ll adjust based on factors yet to be determined. Any other questions or business from the committee before we adjourn? Representative Pilkington, you’re recognized.


Rep Pilkington I didn’t know if I need to do a motion or not, but to remove Bill 1006 from the special order to Thursday.


Rep L Johnson Yeah, we’ll put that out for Thursday.


Rep Pilkington Okay, I just wanted to make sure everyone is aware.


Rep L Johnson And, Representative Ladyman, I believe you have a bill we’re going to put on for Thursday, too. So just keep an eye on the agenda, there’s gonna be several appearing on the active agenda in addition to the ones that have been on special order for the 9th. Any other questions from the committee? Seeing none, meeting adjourned.