Thursday, April 9, 2009

Major Battles: State Employee Health Care Benefits

There are 17 days left in the Legislative session and the pressure is building daily. The House and Senate are both expected to be on the floor, in either session or caucus, all day every day (and often into the night) until they adjourn (or not) on April 26th. Legislators will take two days off for Easter weekend and then work straight through to the end.

A lot of issues are resolved, for better or worse, and now we're down to focusing all of our lobbying efforts on a handful of issues that are still up in the air. For state employees, the single biggest issue is health care.

State employees have already sacrificed our COLA, we’re losing thousands of jobs, and our pension funds are being raided. Health care is the only meaningful benefit remaining for state workers. Neither budget fully funds employee health care, but the Senate budget cuts much deeper and will result in significant erosion in benefits.

What's happening is that other interests are arguing that health care dollars should be taken away from state employees and be used to fund their favorite program instead. Many Legislators forget that you can't have programs without people, and so a battle ensues. Protecting health care benefits is our highest priority right now, and we need all the support we can get.

The Senate continues its assault on state employee benefits in the surprising striking amendment to SB 5869 adopted in the Ways & Means Committee eliminating the “substantially equivalent” language pertaining to state employee benefits in current law. The underlying bill was carefully negotiated between WFSE and the Administration, and we testified in support in committee. However, with the Senate amendment we are now opposed. -- Dennis

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