The Assembly Labor and Workforce Development Committee heard public testimony today about implementing a temporary emergency unemployment insurance plan. The hearing was in response to the slowing economy and growing number of unemployed workers.

The Labor Committee will vote on the temporary plan today. If passed, the measure will go to the state Assembly and Senate for review.

Joblessness has jumped since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the Wisconsin legislature and the U.S. Congress are attempting to curb unemployment with new measures.

A bill sponsored by Labor Committee chair and state Rep. Jean Hundertmark, R-Clintonville, would force state unemployment insurance programs to extend unemployment insurance benefits.

The federal government is debating a similar plan. If the federal bill passes, the state must follow suit and extend benefits. If the federal government does not extend benefits, the state will ask the state unemployment council to recommend a course of action for Wisconsin by Jan. 1.

“The economy seems to be going further and further downward,” said Jason Rostan, committee clerk and senior aide to Hundertmark. “We are looking to find ways to pay for extended benefits for those workers who have been laid off and can?t find employment.”

Most legislators are hopeful that the federal government will extend benefits.

“It is widely anticipated the [federal government] is going to be extending in an emergency nature unemployment benefits,” Rep. Daniel Vrakas, R-Hartland, said.

Rostan said if federal funding is not granted as part of the economic stimulus package, state funds could pick up the cost. However, this is dependent upon the decision of the unemployment board.

“The [unemployment] bill requires that the advisory committee look at bill and come up with a recommendation,” Rostan said. “They could say they don’t feel the need to fund it, and there would be no further money going to the program, and no state money would be spent.”

The state Senate Labor Committee passed the bill with a four-to-one vote. Assembly committee members are not expecting any trouble passing the bill. Vrakas said the bill will most likely pass tomorrow with bipartisan support. Rostan said passing the bill would not produce controversy.

“Most of the members of the committee are co-sponsors of the bill, so we don’t foresee any problem,” Rostan said. “It already passed the Senate Labor Committee.”

The committee is expected to vote today following the hearing, and the bill will most likely go to the whole Assembly for approval Thursday.

The public hearing is today at 9:00 a.m. in Room 225 Northwest of the state Capitol.