LINCOLN — The job advertisements collected from national listings were clear.
Applicants "must be currently employed," one said. Another excluded all but the "employed or only recently unemployed."
A third said the position was open to those who were "actively employed."
State Sen. Ken Haar of Lincoln said such ads create a Catch-22, an unsolvable dilemma, because they mean that to get a job, one must have a job.
"It's unfair," he said. "It's certainly not Nebraska values."
As the nation slogs through a fourth year of high unemployment rates, hiring practices have sprouted up that advocates say discriminate against those who most need to find work.
In response, Haar and lawmakers in more than a dozen states, including Iowa, introduced bills this year to prohibit discrimination against the unemployed.
Proposals pending in Congress would do the same on a nationwide basis.
So far, only New Jersey has passed a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The New Jersey law prohibits job advertisements from saying that being unemployed would disqualify an applicant. Only one complaint has been filed under the law since it went into effect July 1.
The National Employment Law Project, based in New York, wants states to add laws that do more than ban discriminatory ads. The group wants laws that explicitly bar employers and employment agencies from eliminating from consideration candidates who are unemployed.
"You want to tell employers they can't screen workers out of the process because they're unemployed," said George Wentworth, a lawyer for the group.
Haar's bill and the Iowa proposal both would take that additional step.
The Iowa Senate's Judiciary Committee voted to advance that proposal, but Haar's bill remains in the Nebraska Legislature's Business and Labor Committee.
Haar said he does not expect it will advance, because of lawmakers' concerns about creating burdens on business.
State Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion said the bill could leave an employer vulnerable to a discrimination claim any time he or she passed over a jobless person to hire an employed person.
"At what point are we going to stop regulating businesses to the point where we discourage them from hiring more people?," he said.
Haar's proposal would expand protections offered by an existing Nebraska law that bars hiring discrimination against people because they are collecting unemployment benefits.
John Albin, general counsel for the State Department of Labor, said he does not know of anyone making a complaint under the current law.
Some personnel managers say evidence of a discrimination problem is sketchy and that hiring decisions are based on a host of subjective reasons that defy remedies imposed by laws.
Reports of problems from job seekers and advertisements limiting job applications have largely come from areas harder hit by the recession.
Nearly 13 million Americans, or 8.3 percent, were unemployed in February, the U.S. Department of Labor says.
Nebraska has weathered the recession with some of the nation's lowest unemployment rates. More than 41,000 Nebraskans, or 4 percent, were unemployed in January, the latest month available.
Neither Haar nor Ken Mass, a lobbyist for the Nebraska State AFL-CIO, could point to a Nebraska instance of discrimination, which is one reason Haar said he is not pushing harder for the bill this year.
"If we start hearing about that in Nebraska, I will be back with that bill next year," he said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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