Legislative Update – April 7, 2014

TSEA April 7, 2014 0
Legislative Update – April 7, 2014

As referenced in our recent Call to Action, the Tennessee General Assembly will be reviewing the Governor’s supplemental budget this week for final budget passage by the end of the week.

The supplemental budget cut all raises for state employees, higher education employees, and teachers. While the raises were cut, the budget will not require any increase in our health insurance premiums for this next year.

It is important to note that the insurance premium was not negotiated with TSEA as a compromise to not receiving a raise. Instead, TSEA advocated early on for a lower increase in premium by using our reserves in the fund, which is 300% over what it should be as required by the actuarial calculations. We hoped that by saving money with the premiums, the state could use this savings to fund the raise; however, the Administration used the savings and the funds that would have gone to a raise for state employees and teachers to balance the budget, which essentially amounted to 66% of the cuts made.

You are not the only people frustrated with this decision. There is a movement in the House by a bipartisan group of roughly 50 House members to restore the funding for the raise. These House members are looking for any cuts that can be made in every departmental budget, and they are determined to find the necessary funding. This is good news for state employees, as it demonstrates just how important we are to the legislators and the citizens they represent. TSEA will be working with this bipartisan group to find the necessary funding and hold the Governor to the promise he made in February during his State of the State address. We will be updating you as things change – and things will be changing fast, as the budget is expected to be complete by the end of the week.

Because of the budget shortfalls this year, all legislation with a fiscal note will not pass. TSEA had several pieces of legislation with fiscal notes; some of which have already died in committee because of the fiscal impact, and a few others will die this week, as listed below. TSEA met several times with bill sponsors and with the Fiscal Review committee to consider adjustments to the fiscal notes, but were unable to remove the fiscal impact of our bills. It is very important to note that no bills with fiscal notes will pass this session. This was not a plot against TSEA or state employees – it is just the reality of the budget crisis we are in, and we will do everything we can to advance these improvements at a later time when funding is available.

Parking Relief for Higher Ed Employees
HB1306 (Windle) / SB 1369 (Tate)

After polling our higher education members, it was determined that all alternative solutions presented – such as tiered fees based on salary, and offering relief only to those making under $11 an hour – would be unfair when over 50% of higher education employees make under the state average salary. All higher education employees deserve to go to work and not be required to pay for parking, a basic benefit enjoyed by central government employees. With that said, the bill was taken off notice in the House and Senate due to the fiscal note.

TSEA will work with our Higher Education Committee this year to find an appropriate legislative item for next year’s agenda. If you have an idea that would help higher education employees, please send an email to Sarah Adair or Lisa Moffett – both staff are assigned to this committee.

Retiree / Spouse Tuition Discount
HB0887 (Hawk) / SB1164 (Hensley)

After much discussion with fiscal review and THEC, it appears all fiscal notes on all tuition discount bills were adjusted the same, to reflect the additional costs to each school that the State is not fully funding. TSEA has been invited to work this summer with THEC, TBR, and UT to analyze the present tuition discount system to determine how to make adjustments so that employees wanting a degree can benefit from tuition discounts. The results of this summer study will be reflected when TSEA sets its Legislative Agenda this fall.

Other Bills We’re Watching

Grandfathering TDOT Employees without a GED
HB1542 (Bailey) / SB1705 (Niceley)

This bill passed in the Senate State & Local Government Committee and the House State Government Committee last week, and this amended version of the bill would see TDOT reestablish positions (not higher than a salary grade 15) which do not require a GED. To be eligible, the TDOT employee would have to:

  • Be eligible for full service retirement on or before September 1, 2016;
  • Have completed a department-approved program to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent certification, including have taken the test by or before September 1, 2015; and
  • Apply, interview, be selected for, and be placed in such a position by no later than September 1, 2015.

This week this bill will be heard on the full Senate floor on April 9 and in the House, it will be heard in the Finance Committee on April 8. It is expected to pass both the full House and Senate.

Limitations on Employee Rights from Workplace Harassment
SB2126 (Johnson) / HB1954 (V. Dennis)

This bill, brought forward by the NFIB and Chamber of Commerce, seeks to limit the amount of damages that could be granted in lawsuits due to workplace harassment, and has the potential to affect other areas regarding workplace discrimination. This bill will be on the Senate floor tonight, where it is expected to pass. Our only chance to defeat this bill is on the House floor. TSEA is working with other organizations against this bill. It is expected to be on the House floor next week, so please expect a Call to Action soon, at which time we will provide you with talking points.

Healthy Workplace Bill
HB1981 (Parkinson) / SB2226 (Kyle)

This bill was recently amended to include all public employees. TSEA is supporting this bill, as it is a step in the right direction to combat the type of harassment that many state employees witness or experience themselves in the workplace.

State employees need to have a policy in place that will discipline workplace harassment, and the Healthy Workplace Bill seeks to establish the necessary protocol to do so. Presently, there is nowhere for state employees to turn if they experience forms of workplace harassment and mistreatment such as humiliation, intimidation, verbal abuse, or work sabotage.

Thank you to the many state workers who contacted your legislators about this bill. It has the approval of the Municipal League, County and City Mayors, and has passed out of the Local Government Committee in the House. It will be heard in the House Government Operations Committee this week for procedural purposes involving rules/regulations, but is expected to pass as amended. Next week, we expect the Senate Commerce Committee to reopen to discuss this bill, where it will be amended to include state employees. Please watch for an update next week on how you can help us get this bill passed.

To get more information on this movement to end workplace harassment, please go to: http://www.healthworkplacebill.org

Demonstrating/Picketing Over Labor Disputes
HB1688 (Durham) / SB1661 (Kelsey)

This bill makes mass picketing and targeted residential picketing a criminal offenses. While TSEA does not strike, we believe in everyone’s constitutional right to lawfully protest. The Attorney General has ruled that this bill is suspect to being unconstitutional as it applies specifically to labor. The House Criminal Justice Committee sent this bill to “Summer Study,” which essentially killed it for this year. This is a huge victory for all who believe in the constitutional right to protest.

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