JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - People fired for missing work and not following company rules could have a harder time claiming unemployment benefits under a bill sent to Gov. Jay Nixon.
The House voted 98-57 to pass the measure Wednesday. The Senate passed the same bill in February.
Fired workers who engaged in "misconduct" at the workplace can be denied benefits under current law. But the legislation expands the definition of "misconduct" to include chronic absenteeism and "knowing" violations of an employer's rules. The current standard requires "willful disregard" of an employer's regulations.
Supporters say many workers fired for reasons such as sleeping on the job are allowed to collect benefits under the current system. Opponents say the measure could deny benefits to people fired wrongly.
The jobless rate dropped to 7.7 percent last month, the lowest level since President Barack Obama has been in office. Still, White House economist Alan Krueger notes that the new unemployment rate was measured before $85 billion in automatic budget cuts started taking effect.
The administration has warned that the cuts could have a negative impact on employment and economic growth.
That was up from 8.7 percent in December and back to almost the 9.1 percent rate of January 2012.
Department Director Jay Rowell blamed the uneven recovery the state has experienced since the recession.
The number of unemployed people in the state rose by 4 percent to 594,800. The state added a relatively small 7,100 jobs in January.
The biggest job losses were among companies in the trade, transportation and utilities sector where the state lost a net 5,500 jobs in January. Government agencies also shed a net 1,500 jobs. Educational and health services employers added 5,500 jobs.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in January. That was slightly higher than December.
January's rate dropped one-tenth of a point to 6.6 percent--which is the lower level in over four years.
A spokesperson for the Department of Economic Development says that Missouri's rate has been below the national average for 41 months. The national rate sits at 7.9 percent now.
The Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to a measure expanding the definition of "misconduct" in the workplace. The change would make it harder for people to qualify for unemployment insurance after they are fired. Supporters say the bill will protect businesses from liability and give them more freedom to fire employees who misbehave at work. The legislation is sponsored by Republican Sen. Will Kraus, of Lee's Summit. It needs one more affirmative vote in the Senate before moving to the House.