Bill to encourage jobless to volunteer advances

OLYMPIA — A state Senate panel Friday approved a bill inspired by two Snohomish High seniors that would steer jobless adults into community service without jeopardizing their unemployment checks.

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee backed the legislation after a hearing in which students Kristen Hoffmann and Marissa Martz said volunteering could help those seeking work gain skills, showcase their talents and network with prospective employers.

“There are businesses where you can show them what you can do and they can see what you are really made of,” Martz told lawmakers. “They can then see first-hand your ethics, your motivations, and how hard you want to work for the business. And I think when you’re unemployed that can really help your chances of getting employed again.”

Hoffman stressed the value employers might associate with community service.

“Instead of just a piece of paper given to a future employer like a resume, you actually get to show what you’re doing and what you’re worth,” she said.

Unemployed adults must meet certain job search requirements to be eligible to receive benefits. Under existing law, each week they must complete at least three job search-related activities such as contacting employers or making in-person inquiries and filling out applications.

Under Senate Bill 6392, two hours of community service may be substituted for one job search activity.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, sponsored the bill following a meeting with the students in January.

Originally, Hoffmann and Martz sought to make community service mandatory for most unemployed adults. But state employment officials told lawmakers that would conflict with federal laws concerning unemployed workers and Washington could lose up to $1 billion dollars in federal funds if it made such a change.

Leaders of statewide labor organizations and Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill upon its introduction — and still oppose it with the changes. They don’t think it will help out-of-work individuals find jobs and could be viewed by them as a punitive measure.

Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma said the bill is “a great idea but there’s some debate about it” and encouraged the students to speak with some of those foes about their concerns.

In an interview before the committee vote, Hoffmann and Martz said they hadn’t anticipated as much fervor from opponents as they encountered.

“This has been a real eye-opening experience,” Martz said. “It’s hard when there’s a lot of passion on both sides.”

Hoffmann said if the concept doesn’t fly this year, she might contemplate trying again in 2015.

“If you’re going to receive money from the government you should give something back to the community,” she said.

Senate Bill 6392 will now be considered by the Rules Committee which could allow it to be voted on by the full Senate.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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