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Bill would exempt more employees from unemployment benefits

The state Senate has given its preliminary approval to a bill that would allow religious organizations to avoid paying unemployment taxes for educational and day care workers. Current state law exempts certain work from eligibility for unemployment insurance. That includes work done as an employee of a church.

This bill would expand that to include educational and child care services that include religious instruction, in an organization that’s operated primarily for religious purposes. That means those teachers and day care workers would not be able to apply for unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs.

Proponents say the change is needed, after state tax officials recently started interpreting the current religious exemption so it only applies to ministers and not private school teachers, but Democrats say churches should provide unemployment benefits to teachers.

The House approved the bill last month, on a party-line vote. It still faces a roll-call vote in the Senate, before going to the governor.