By Tim Carpenter – Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law Monday legislation affirming a commitment to modernize the Kansas Department of Labor’s computer network relied upon to handle jobless claims and to guarantee employers weren’t liable for fraudulent unemployment filings during the pandemic.
The Kelly administrated had started working on options of upgrading the department’s computers when the COVID-19 pandemic struck a year ago. The influx of unemployment claims, lack of agency personnel to handle calls and the 40-year-old IT system led to consumer rage and political backlash that landed at the governor’s feet.
A bipartisan coalition of House and Senate members produced House Bill 2196 that retained the 26-week unemployment benefit period through Sept. 5, expanded opportunity for the jobless to access commerce department employment services, held harmless businesses victimized by fraudulent claims and implemented a process designed to make certain computer technology at the labor department move into the modern era.
“After a decade of neglect, this bipartisan legislation is another important step to address and resolve the issues facing the Kansas Department of Labor,” Kelly said. “Critically, this bill will support our ongoing modernization of the 40-year-old IT system that struggled to handle the record volume of claimants and newly created federal programs.”
Kelly and legislative leaders have said the law ought to better prepare Kansas for the next economic crisis that throws tens of thousands out of work.
Amber Shultz, secretary at the labor department, said the agency looked forward to working with the Legislature and Kansas businesses to select a company capable of pushing the computer modernization process ahead. One estimate indicated the project could cost more than $40 million and take several years.