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Republican lawmakers craft bill to trim unemployment benefits

State legislators are considering an overhaul of the state unemployment system that includes a major reduction in benefits for laid-off workers.

The potential cutbacks, unveiled Wednesday morning by a Republican-controlled committee, are included in a draft bill that takes a broad-brush approach to dealing with the state’s $2.48 billion debt to the federal government. The money was borrowed to pay for unemployment benefits.

Republican leaders are portraying the proposal as spreading the pain among employers and the unemployed. “It ain’t kind. It ain’t nice. But it’s important,” said Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican from Mocksville and co-chair of the Joint Revenue Laws Study Committee. “No one loves this bill.”

But advocacy groups for the poor contend the unemployed, who already are reeling from the effects of a struggling economy, would be hit disproportionately hard. Read more here.

Berger hires N&O reporter

Incoming Senate leader Phil Berger has hired Ray Martin, the city hall reporter for The News and Observer, to be his press secretary.

Martin, an Oklahoma native, who has worked for The N&O for nearly two years, will make $39,500.

Amy Auth, a former press secretary for gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, is Berger's communications director. The communications staff for the Senate leader usually performs tasks for the entire GOP caucus.

Handing out the Senate gavels

Incoming Senate leader Phil Berger continues to roll out the GOP committee leadership posts.

This morning he announced three co-chairs of the Senate Judiciary II Committee: Senators Austin Allran of Hickory, E.S. “Buck” Newton, a freshman from Rocky Mount, and Warren Daniel, a freshman from Morganton.

The committee oversees the state's criminal justice system and laws.

Berger also recently announced that Sen. David Rouzer of Benson and Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain would serve as co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources. Sen. Brent Jackson of Autryville was named as as vice chairman.

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