Bill shifting burden of proof to jobless is OK'd

PHOENIX - Arizonans seeking to collect unemployment benefits would have the burden to prove they were let go if an employer claims otherwise under legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday on a party-line vote.

Existing law and practices at the Department of Economic Security, which administers the state's jobless aid program, generally make an employer prove someone filing a claim is ineligible. But lobbyists for the business community said that can be impossible if an employee simply walks off the job.

The version of HB 2147 that previously was approved by the House ran into problems when the U.S. Labor Department objected. Federal officials said DES cannot simply put the burden on applicants but must make an informed decision based on all available information. U.S. approval is significant since the $35 million a year in DES administrative costs comes through the Labor Department.

Senators added new language spelling out that DES must make "reasonable efforts" to get all applicable information. DES lobbyist Kathy Ber said that appears to satisfy the Labor Department.

Thursday's 17-12 vote sends the now-amended version back to the House.

San Francisco-based bank expanding to Arizona

TEMPE - San Francisco-based Union Bank is opening a mortgage operations center in Tempe and plans to eventually have about 250 employees at the site.

Bank officials said Thursday they will hire application processors, underwriters, managers and operations support personnel.

Union Bank has leased 42,000 square feet in a 160,000-square-foot office building about a mile north of Arizona State University's main campus

Gov. Jan Brewer joined bank officials in making the announcement, the third involving large companies adding jobs in recent months. All three are benefiting from incentives from the Arizona Commerce Authority. Union Bank will qualify for $3.5 million in job training and tax credits for locating in Tempe.

As of December, the company had 443 retail branches in California, Washington and Oregon.


Jobless-aid applications unchanged; home sales up

WASHINGTON - In U.S. reports Thursday:

• Labor Department: The number of people seeking unemployment aid barely changed last week, while the average over the past month fell to a five-year low.

• National Association of Realtors: Sales of previously occupied homes rose in February to their fastest pace in more than three years, and more people put their homes on the market.

• Freddie Mac: The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage, still near record lows, fell to 3.54 percent.


Cyprus rushes to prepare for broader bailout steps

NICOSIA, Cyprus - Cypriot politicians moved Thursday to restructure the country's most troubled bank as part of a broader bailout plan that must be in place by Monday to avoid financial ruin. The European Central Bank set the Monday deadline.

Concerned customers rushed to get cash from ATMs as bank employees protested.

Capitol Media Services, Associated Press