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The Nexus Group: Retirement & Health Benefits for March 13

 

There are two “W’s” that come into play now that the first major deadline has passed. “Whew!” is the first one. Bills that have failed to clear their house of origin are ‘dead’. Some good bills didn’t make it; some bad ones didn’t either. “What the ?” is the next one, as a reaction when any of these bills come back ‘alive’, either because they are deemed necessary to implement the budget, or just because legislators desire it.

The message is clearly getting out about the need for substitutes. The House Education Committee will be holding a work session on March 16 starting at 1:30 in Hearing Room A to discuss the shortage of substitute teachers. The main questions they want a briefing on are: “We hear about the shortage, but what are the reasons, are they the same all over the state, or does they vary, and if they vary, what are the reasons for the variance?” WASA, AWSP, and the Rural Education Center have been invited to put a panel together to make the presentation before the Committee.

Here’s the current status of a few select bills of importance.

HB 1355: Increasing the minimum hourly wage to twelve dollars over four years passed the House on March 3rd (51 to 46 with 1 excused). It has been sent to the Senate awaiting a hearing before the Commerce and Labor Committee.

The net effect on school districts is expected to be minimal.

HB 1356: Establishing minimum standards for sick and safe leave from employment passed the House on March 3 (51 to 46 with 1 excused). It has been sent to the Senate awaiting a hearing before the Commerce and Labor Committee.

The bill would require employers (which include political subdivisions (school districts) of the state and any municipal corporation or quasi-municipal corporation with more than four full-time FTE’s to provide paid leave to employees. Paid leave would be permissible for (1) specified medical reasons relating to the employee’s or a family member’s health; (2) reasons permitted under existing law requiring unpaid leave for purposes related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; (3) closure of the employee’s place of business or child’s school or place of care due to specified public health emergencies. The leave is accrued based on the number of hours an employee works, ranging from one hour for every 40 hours worked to one hour for every 30 hours if a Tier 3 employer. Leave would be allowed to be carried over.

The fiscal note reads, “OSPI assumes districts’ leave policies provide a sufficient amount of leave to meet the hourly requirements for Tier 1–3 employers. Tier 1 employers have 5–49 FTE’s, Tier 2 (50–249 FTE’s) and Tier 3 employers have 250 or more FTE’s. Districts may have to modify policies to comply with the eligible uses of leave defined in the bill and if the updated policies result in an expansion of leave eligibility, districts may see an increase in leave usage, which could result in additional costs for substitute teachers.” The bill reads that paid sick and safe leave requirements do not apply to any employees covered by a bona fide collective bargaining agreement to the extent the requirements are expressly waived in clear and unambiguous terms.

The links to the actual detailed bill and to the bill narrative report are below:

http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015–16/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1356.pdf

http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015–16/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/House/1356%20HBR%20APH%2015.pdf

This bill has some costs that I believe were unintended but nevertheless could result from this bill. There is a significant cost to universities who use student employees. OSPI did not consider the district cost for part-time employees such as a community coach for a sport who would qualify if he/she works more than 240 hours a year. Cities and counties also know it will cost them but as in the case of many numerous agencies in the fiscal note, the costs are indeterminate.

SHB 1737: Addressing the availability of retired teachers as substitutes.

This bill passed the House on a 97/1 vote. Representative Hudgins (D) voted “No” because he feels the substitute pay is too low. It has been sent to the Senate and is awaiting a scheduled hearing before the Ways and Means Committee.

The key parts of the bill are:

  1. Districts must document a shortage of certificated substitute teachers;
  2. The number of hours a retired teacher may work without suspension of retirement benefits was increased from 216 hours to 630 hours (The intent was to basically allow up to a semester of substitute availability, but this would vary depending on the length of an individual school day.); and
  3. The bill will sunset August 1, 2019.

The challenge remains to get a hearing and then a vote before the committee over the objections of Senators Bailey and Schoesler.

SB 5941 Concerning certification of adjunct faculty as common school substitute teachers.

This bill requires the professional educator standards board to amend or adopt rules that provide for issuance of the certification necessary to serve as substitute teachers, other than emergency substitute certification, to adjunct faculty currently employed in institutions of higher education who meet certain criteria.

The bill was approved by the Senate on a vote of 48–1. It has been scheduled for a public hearing before the House Education Committee on March 16 at 1:30 PM.

SSB 5976 Establishing a consolidating purchasing system for public school employees.

Sponsors: Senators Litzow, Keiser, Becker, Rivers, Hobbs, Hill, Hatfield, Fain, Baumgartner, McAuliffe, Dammeier

This bill creates the School Employees’ Benefits Board (SEBB), within the State Health Care Authority (HCA), to design and approve statewide insurance benefit plans for school employees and to establish eligibility criteria for participation in insurance benefit plans. It would remove health benefits from collective bargaining at a district level and put the responsibility for statewide collective bargaining with the Governor or his designee.

This bill is virtually the same as SB 6442/HB 2724 which was introduced in the 2012 Legislative Session and received no floor action in the Senate, and no hearings in the House.

The stated intent of the bill to create savings through assumed efficiencies to assure equitable access to health care for all eligible employees and their dependents and to assure assumed cost-effectiveness through pooling, leveraged purchasing, and administrative simplification. One of the chief savings would come from an elimination of the broker and administrative fees currently paid in the private plans in place.

This bill did not make it to the floor for a vote so is ‘dead’… or not (see introductory remarks).

Fred Yancey
fyancey@comcast.net
The Nexus Group