Lobby Day A Success
Thank you for all of your efforts to make Lobby Day a huge success. We have followed up with many legislators based on the discussions you had with them and their concerns with what we are facing this session. In addition, we recruited 6 new legislative members and came to a compromise on our TEAM Act bills with the Administration! It was a truly awesome day and everyone should give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done. I hope everyone that attended will take a moment to send a personal thank you letter to all legislators for the time they spent with you. These personal letters really make a difference when it comes time for them to make decisions on our issues.
Most of the discussion on Lobby Day focused on the fact that the present proposed budget includes a 2% raise for teachers but only a 1% raise for state employees (both Central Government and Higher Education). We are working closely with members on the Finance, Ways, & Means Committee to find the additional $29 million needed to give state employees a 2% raise as well, so that this raise is distributed equally. One legislator commented that he had never seen a difference in proposed raise amounts in his long time in the legislature. We believe most see this as unfair and will fight to find the dollars for you.
Right now there is approximately $12 million going to the Rainy Day fund that is over the mandated amount. Likewise, we are working with Benefits & Administration (B&A) to lower our insurance premium increase for the next year due to the excess in our reserve fund. If we can do this, it may be possible to find the money to fund an additional 1% for state employees. It is our top priority, but we have not seen the next round of revenue projections. I can assure you that if the Governor proposes a supplemental budget with additional money being allocated to other areas, we have the legislative support to make this the top priority before other special projects. Expect more details and info on this subject as we get closer to the budget debates.
One bill that was presented to the Council on Pensions and Insurance Committee this week was to increase benefits for Autism in private insurance plans. It is a shame, but the state insurance plan had to be excluded from this bill to eliminate the fiscal note. However, we are working closely with the sponsors and lobbyists on this bill and they have assured us that in other states where state employees were excluded, they were able to get them into the plan after the first year of fiscal projections came out. In addition, they agreed to work with Benefits & Administration to include these expanded benefits in the contract negotiations that come about every 3 years. TSEA will continue to monitor this issue both at the Legislature and at the Insurance Committee to make sure this is addressed.
TSEA Government Affairs Director
Status of TSEA Bills
Fiscal Review of Contracts involving Layoffs
HB2161 (Matheny) / SB 2022 (Bell)
We have been working continually on this piece of legislation with the Administration, the Department of Human Resources (DOHR), and the Procurement Office, as well as the Fiscal Review Committee to amend this bill. As written, all contracts would have to go to Fiscal Review because they do not always know on the front end which contract will result in a layoff. This has created a very large fiscal note, which is delaying the bill. We presently feel the bill can be amended to include only contracts sent to DOHR that involve personnel matters, and hope this will result in no fiscal impact. The bill has been rolled so we can review the language and fiscal note and the bill will be rolled 1 week in the House State Government Committee to also give us time to prepare all documents before proceeding.
Medicare Supplemental Insurance
HB1738 (D. Carr) / SB 1824 (Bowling)
TSEA has discussed this bill with B&A at great length. The bill has a fiscal note that carries over every year, and likewise, we have a large unfunded liability when it comes to our insurance benefits for retirees. The bill was heard in the Council on Pensions and Insurance Committee but did not get a favorable recommendation by the committee because of the fiscal impact. Both sponsors are concerned with this issue, and with how we can have an unfunded liability in a “self-funded” plan. At this point the bill will not move forward in the committee system, but may be brought back as a budget amendment.
State Employee Health Insurance Reserve Fund
HB 1711 (Ramsey) / SB 1814 (Massey)
We are waiting for this bill to be on the Council on Pensions & Insurance Committee Calendar before we can proceed. We have also discussed this bill at great length with B&A and are awaiting their response. We asked for a premium holiday to spend down some of the reserve, but apparently that is a logistical nightmare as experienced by the agency the last time it was enacted. B&A were open to the possibility of lowering the proposed rate of increase for premiums next year, so we hope that we can come to an agreement. All of this is very fluid at this time, and we have not yet been updated as to whether the Administration will accept this request.
No Layoffs outside of the Budget Discussions
HB 1748 (M. Hill) / SB 1997 (Yager)
As most of you know, this bill has not been well received by the Administration. We have amended it to accommodate all of their concerns, but they still are not satisfied. The Administration has agreed to write a policy that states all legislators will be notified prior to any layoffs in their area, but we have not seen any final language to this effect. As amended, the present bill states that if layoffs are not discussed during the legislative budget process, then any layoff in excess of 50 outside of session would result in a notification of the chairmen of both the House and Senate Government Operations Committees. We feel this is a fair bill as amended and hope the committee will see that if the Administration is okay with a policy, then there should be no reason not to put it in Code. This bill faces a huge hurdle in the House State Government Committee, which will hear this bill this Wednesday, March 5th at 9AM. Expect an update soon, and if you have not already contacted your legislators on this committee, please do. Keep the message simple and state that we have amended the bill to address all concerns and it deserves to be law, not just policy, as any administration in the future can easily eliminate the policy.
Proposed TEAM Act Changes
TSEA Bill HB1940 (Dunn) / SB2045 (Southerland)
DOHR Bill HB1420 (Dunn) / SB1624 (Johnson)
TSEA and DOHR have negotiated a compromise on these 2 bills, which both alter the TEAM Act. Combined, the bills do the following:
- Allow audio recordings of Level 1 hearings
- Allow employee representation and participation at Level 1 hearings when the agency has more than one person present.
- Expands the Board of Appeals to up to 18 members to accommodate 2 monthly hearing dates.
- Requires all employees to submit a written statement at a Level 2 hearing that explains why you feel you have been unjustly treated. If this written statement is not included in Level 2, the decision of the DOHR Commissioner is final and you forfeit your right to a Level 3 appeal before the Board.
- All Level 3 hearings require the employee to participate in person, by counsel or thru electronic means.
Both bills are traveling through the committee system together and will be heard next week in Senate State & Local and in the House State Government Committee. We do not expect any complications and hope to get these bills to the floors of both houses for passage soon.
Parking Relief for Higher Ed Employees
HB1306 (Windle) / SB 1369 (Tate)
This bill will be put on notice in 2 weeks to discuss the pilot program at University of Memphis. This pilot is not what we envisioned and does not help all employees under the average state salary, so TSEA plans to proceed with the bill for a vote in the committee.
Retiree / Spouse Tuition Discount
HB887 (Hawk) / SB1164 (Hensley)
This bill has passed through the House and is behind the budget, which means we have to find funding for it in the budget. We have met with and asked the Administration to consider this bill in its Drive to 55 package, and our sponsors are trying to find funding via every possible avenue. We expect this bill to be on the Senate Education Calendar in 2 weeks.
As always, we will make you aware of updates and developments as information comes available, and will put the word out if your help is needed in contacting legislators regarding our bills.
For updates on all of TSEA’s legislation, visit our website’s 2014 Legislation Page and follow us on Twitter @tseaonline for live updates in committees discussing our bills.