The Wisconsin State Senate Committee on Labor, Elections and Urban Affairs passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday granting tax exemptions on unemployment benefits from the state.

The bill was co-authored by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay. Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, and Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, also approved the bill that would aid the roughly 4.5 percent of Wisconsin residents who are currently unemployed.

Noting the economic recession and drastic increase in unemployment after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hansen said the increasing number of people in need resulted in extending unemployment benefits.

"I … think taxing those benefits takes away from our efforts to help people and their families get back on their feet,” Hansen said. “To that end, I am hopeful this bill will become law."

Hansen added that his firsthand unemployment experience allows him to better understand the frustration others are going through.

"[Unemployment is] a very difficult time in your life," Hansen said. "It's important not to be taxed for the benefits you are receiving so you can get back on your feet."

John Metcalf, director of Human Resources and Policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said a person is able to qualify for benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks.

"The average amount provided to the unemployed is $225 per week for 16 weeks … and a maximum payment of $350," Metcalf said.

Soletski said the bill would save the unemployed up to $24 per week and up to $624 over a 26-week period. He added the federal government has refused to offer any aid and said the surges in the prices of both gasoline and groceries make life even harder on the unemployed.

Lasee said the bill was not designed to help the unemployed find jobs but to simply allow them to receive more of their unemployment checks.

"It's bad enough to be unemployed, never mind being taxed on the benefits that are needed to just get by," Lasee said.

Despite taking money from the state's gross income, Lasee added, the state's surplus this year proves that the bill would not have a harmful impact.

However, Hansen said the bill would hurt the state income from taxes a fair amount but added, "We always talk about giving corporate tax breaks, and that's okay. But I think we have to help the people of the lower and middle income."

Before Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle can sign the bill into law, it must come up on the Democratic-controlled Senate floor and be passed by the Republican-controlled Assembly.