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Maine governor wants unemployment system review

AUGUSTA, Maine — Facing criticism that he tried to influence decisions on unemployment claims, Governor Paul LePage said Wednesday that he is establishing a special commission to investigate the state’s system of paying benefits to jobless workers.

‘‘Let’s take an in-depth look at the state’s entire unemployment compensation system to make sure that it is fair and consistent for all Mainers,’’ ­LePage said in announcing his executive order to create a blue-ribbon commission. He said that the commission will ­include representatives of ­employees and employers and that its mission is to ensure that the state’s unemployment system ‘‘provides benefits for workers who are rightly entitled to them.’’

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‘‘We welcome the opportunity to examine the system and make sure it is doing what it is designed to do: administer ­unemployment compensation in a judicious way that benefits both employers and employees,’’ LePage said in a statement. ‘‘The people of Maine deserve to know that their system works for everyone.’’

LePage’s announcement comes after criticism that the Republican governor pressured unemployment hearing officers, who decide unemployment benefit appeals, to decide more cases to favor business. The Maine Employment Lawyers Association, whose members represent workers in unemployment benefit appeals cases, has asked federal labor officials to look into the claims.

Much of the criticism stems from a Blaine House luncheon the governor held in March with hearing officers, in which he reportedly said they overlooked information that skewed the outcome of cases, often in favor of workers. The luncheon meeting was also attended by Jennifer Duddy, chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission, and Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette.

A LePage spokeswoman said Wednesday that no one was pressured during the meeting and that the governor’s intent was to urge hearing officers ‘‘to follow the letter of the law.’’

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