Upthegrove bill helps Kent business saddled with ‘erroneous’ UI rate

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OLYMPIA – A popular Kent eatery is paying a higher unemployment insurance rate based on the history of a failed restaurant in the same location. But owner Roger Stilson, who also owns two other successful restaurants, doesn’t think state law was intended to burden new businesses that open where others have failed. State Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D – Des Moines) agrees, and is sponsoring legislation to assist the business and clarify the law for this and similar situations.

“Here we have a business owner with a successful track record who is providing jobs and contributing to our local economy. Why should he have to pay more because of someone else’s failure? My bill clarifies predecessor-successor business relationships, so rates can be calculated appropriately,” Upthegrove said.

Upthegrove’s bill, HB 2491, received a public hearing today in the House Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Stilson, who opened Mama Stortini’s at Kent Station in 2009, came to testify in person before the committee.

“We have used less than 20 percent of the premiums we have paid in to Unemployment Insurance. We are good citizens. We did not fire people during the downturn; we hired people. Ninety people,” Stilson said in his testimony today. “This bill as written will remedy this problem, which is very likely hurting other small businesses just like us.”

Stilson brought the issue to Upthegrove’s attention two years ago, and Upthegrove contacted the state Employment Security Department to request a reconsideration of Mama Stortini’s unemployment insurance rate, which he agreed was in error. However, the state agency didn’t budge from its position, so Upthegrove decided to bring forward legislation to fix the problem.

“If the law isn’t clear, there will be other small businesses unfairly hit by this,” Upthegrove said. “The intent of the law is to prevent employers from gaming the system, not to punish a thriving business that just happened to open at a particular location.”

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