Iowa businesses could be penalized for stipulating that only people who currently have a job may apply for job openings.

A bill has cleared an initial hurdle in the Iowa Senate to address the issue, establishing fines for businesses that advertise job openings, but make it clear the unemployed are not eligible to apply. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, says it’s a fairness issue.

“We think it’s not fair to deny people an opportunity to get a job simply because they lost their last job, quite possibly through no fault of their own,” he says.

Senator Kent Sorenson, a Republican from Indianola, says people shouldn’t be discriminated against because they lost their job, but he says this bill isn’t the answer.

“It’s just a ‘warm-fuzzy’ legislation that they’re going to pass so they feel like they’ve done something so they can put it in their newsletters and so they can go out and talk about it in the election,” Sorenson says, “and I’m not into doing that.”

Sorenson accuses Democrats of devising one more way to make it more difficult to do business in Iowa. Brad Epperly is a lobbyist for a number of business groups as well as for major employers like John Deere.

“Just simply because somebody’s unemployed, it shouldn’t be a reason to not consider them for employment,” Epperly says. “Having said that, we find it difficult to legislate this.”

Kevin Condon is a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

“We’re not aware of any of our members posting these types of jobs on the internet or elsewhere or in the newspaper, that those that are currently unemployed need not apply,” he says.

But Stephanie Fawkes-Lee lobbies on civil rights issues and she says the bill’s a step in the right direction.

“I think there is discrimination taking place,” Fawkes-Lee says, “especially gender and age discrimination that’s being masked.”

Senator Sorenson, an opponent of the bill, says age discrimination is a problem, but this bill is about providing Democrats ammunition in the fall campaign.

“We’re constantly passing legislation down here that doesn’t really do anything,” Sorenson says. “How are you going to enforce it?”

Senator Quirmbach, the bill’s chief sponsor, says the state of New Jersey has had a similar law on the books for eight months and, so far, just one business has been caught advertising that the unemployed need not apply.

“If you think it’s fair to kick somebody when they’re down, then you’re not going to like this bill,” Quirmbach says. “But if you have sympathy for people who have lost their jobs…who have been laid off through no fault of their own, I want to see them get a chance to get back into the labor force, become taxpaying citizens again.”

In addition, Quirmbach says women who’ve taken time off to raise children can be denied the opportunity to find work if businesses stipulate that unemployed people may not apply for job openings.

The bill now must clear a senate committee by week’s end or it will no longer be eligible for debate in the legislature.