Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday signed a labor-supported bill that restores some unemployment-insurance benefits lost during sweeping...

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Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday signed a labor-supported bill that restores some unemployment-insurance benefits lost during sweeping changes two years ago. The revisions angered business groups that fought for the landmark overhaul.

The legislation will raise benefits for seasonal and cyclical workers whose unemployment benefits had dropped substantially after the 2003 changes took effect. However, it also reduces jobless benefits across the board.

“I don’t think the governor realizes how much this will eventually cost,” said Carolyn Logue, director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ state chapter. “And there is little comfort in the fact that the new law is only in place for a couple of years.”

The law restores the previous benefits until legislators can come up with an unemployment-insurance system on which both business and labor can agree. If they haven’t by 2007, the system reverts to the 2003 rules.

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The new law re-establishes “two-quarter averaging,” a calculation that allows workers to claim their two highest-earning quarters instead of a year-round average. This means a worker earning $25,000 the first half of the year, but only $5,000 the second half, would still qualify for the maximum benefit of $496. Under the 2003 changes, that same worker would only be eligible for $300 a week.

To offset the added costs, the state will tap the unemployment trust fund and will slightly shrink jobless benefits for all recipients.

Shirleen Holt: 206-464-8316 or sholt@seattletimes.com