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The Nexus Group: Retirement & Benefits for April 10


Retirement and Health Benefits

There are over 500 pages in a proposed budget, and there are always details and provisos hidden within the budgets that may not be where they are expected. One such detail is the proviso about funding a consolidation of health care coverage. In addition, numerous proposed bills may or may not be ‘dead’. So all this means that tracking bills and updating status is like trying to describe a moving target, especially when the speed increases as the Legislature nears the April 15 deadline for moving bills out of their respective chambers. Then, hang on. The sprint begins to finish by April 26, the ‘last’ day of the session.

Here’s a status update on some selected bills:

Minimum Wage/ Sick/Safe Leave
These bills represent issues dear to the House Democrats. Both failed to make either policy or fiscal cut-offs in the Senate because the chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Senator Baumgartner, didn’t allow them to advance beyond a hearing. They are likely ‘dead’. Both are expected back next session.

HB 1355: Increasing the minimum hourly wage to twelve dollars over four years passed the House on March 3 (51 to 46 with 1 excused).

HB 1356: Establishing minimum standards for sick and safe leave from employment passed the House on March 3 (51 to 46 with 1 excused). Implementation for this bill is funded in the House budget proposal ($1.5 million), so technically it is ‘necessary to implement the budget’ (NTIB).

Substitute Teachers
Even though districts and most legislators know of the critical need for substitute teachers, major bills to increase the pool of those available have not been advanced.

SHB 1737: Addressing the availability of retired teachers as substitutes passed the House on a 97–1 vote. It was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The Committee scheduled this bill for Executive Session on March 7, but when it came time for a briefing, Chair Hill ‘pulled’ the bill from any further consideration. Therefore, it failed to make the fiscal cut-off and is ‘dead’. This is mixed news, since the Committee had a striker that would have changed the bill to limit the hours to 216 instead of the House version with 630 hours.

The House budget bill, however, does fund implementation of their bill, (630 hours) so it is NTIB and will remain ‘alive’ till sine die.

You are encouraged to contact your legislators to repeat the need and to ask them to hold firm in insisting that the House bill be accepted by the Senate.

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 passed out of the House Education Committee on March 26. It is in House Rules awaiting a pull to the House floor calendar. This bill is likely to pass since a similar bill (HB 1109) passed the House (72–25) and funds are allocated for implementing the bill in the House budget. This is another NTIB bill.

Pensions
There are no bills currently that passed all committee cut-offs that deal with pensions. However, pensions are fiscal issues and as such could be deemed necessary to implement the budget.

SB 5982: Addressing retirement age provisions for new members of the state retirement systems administered by the Department Of Retirement Systems by moving retirement age from 65 to 67.

SB 6005: Establishing the state average annual wage as the maximum compensation to be used for calculating state retirement benefits.

SB 6076: Garnishing up to 50% public pensions to pay for the costs of incarceration of a public employee convicted of a felony for misconduct associated with such person’s service as a public employee.

SB 6077: Authorizing the forfeiture of the pension of a public employee convicted of a felony for misconduct associated with such person’s service as a public employee.

Health Insurance
SSB 5976: Establishing a consolidated purchasing system for public employees.

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.

This bill is on the Senate floor calendar awaiting a vote. Implementation for this bill is funded in the Senate budget proposal ($18+ million), so it is NTIB.

Some other bills of note:
Currently, anyone purchasing insurance through the Public Employee Benefit Board must pay an additional $25/month surcharge if they smoke. The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed SSB 6096 with a simple title, “Concerning Cancer Research”. As passed by the Committee, a cancer research and endowment fund transfer account will be established and funded by a $100/month tobacco use surcharge on school district and education service district employees who participate in their employers’ health plan or state employees who are enrolled in the PEBB health plans. Vaporized nicotine products are exempt.

Should this bill pass, districts would have to negotiate with their insurance providers how best to collect and then rebate this surcharge.

Multiple Democrats on the Committee pointed out that this “$1,200/year tax” on public employees unfairly singles out just these groups for the surcharge. A better way to fund such research, they suggested, would be to use the tobacco settlement. The bill has been moved to the Senate Rules Committee awaiting action.

Fred Yancey
fyancey@comcast.net
The Nexus Group