Legislative Update – March 14, 2014

TSEA March 14, 2014 Comments Off on Legislative Update – March 14, 2014
Legislative Update – March 14, 2014

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). This week, several members of leadership informed me that the Governor is looking at cutting the proposed budget by $100 million. Historically, he has presented supplemental budgets with additional revenue; however, the State’s revenue is $100 million below the projections upon which the budget was based. With this in mind, it will be almost impossible to secure the additional $29 million to fund a 2% raise instead of the proposed 1% in the budget. We have not heard anything that indicates the 1% will be cut, but we will have to watch it closely. If any raises are cut, it should be from the 2% given to teachers instead of from state employees.

Equally bad news discovered this week is that while the budget indicates a 1% raise for higher education employees, the budget actually decreases funding in other areas of higher education, which creates the great possibility that Higher Ed will not get a raise at all. In addition, the amount in the present budget for Higher Ed raises is only 55% of the amount needed for the full 1% raise, so Higher Ed would have to come up with almost half of the raise from their internal budgets and find money for the other cuts the Governor is making.

The budget situation is very grim at this time, so we are in constant communication with leadership to protect the 1% that is there, but are fearful that we will not see any additional funding come our way. We are, however, still pursuing a decrease in the insurance premium rate for January 2015. The proposed increase is 5.5%, and we are very hopeful that this will be reduced and offer employees some relief. This is one bright point for employees and is completely the result of negotiations that TSEA is having with Benefits & Administration on our bill to spend down the excess in our insurance reserve fund.

Status of TSEA Bills

Fiscal Review of Contracts involving Layoffs
HB2161 (Matheny) / SB2022 (Bell)

Sadly, this bill has been taken off notice because of a large fiscal note. After repeated attempts to amend the bill and continual negotiations with the Administration, the Department of Human Resources (DOHR), and the Procurement Office, as well as the Fiscal Review Committee, we were unable to eliminate the fiscal impact of this bill. This is very unfortunate, because the fiscal note indicates that the department would have to hire an additional employee to verify the cost savings and effectiveness of contracting out of services. It is our opinion that a cost analysis should be already completed by the department wishing to contract out services. The only way good decisions can be made is if the departments know that they are actually saving money. So, the presence of this fiscal note actually implies that the State goes in to contracts and lays off employees without doing proper analysis. As we all know, poor decisions lead to bad services for the citizens of this state. Our sponsor, Sen. Mike Bell, stated on record in the Senate State & Local Committee that we should be making good policies based on good decisions. Likewise, Chairman Yager indicated that he agreed and that Fiscal Review should look into this. The Chair of Fiscal Review, Sen. Ketron, who also sits on this committee, nodded his head in agreement. TSEA will work with Fiscal Review to find an adequate plan to address this issue.

No Layoffs outside of the Budget Discussions
HB1748 (M. Hill) / SB1997 (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. We  should thank all the members of the House State Government Committee that voted to add our amendment to this bill, which only solidified the importance that the Administration follow through on their proposed policy to notify legislators when layoffs are going to occur, both in and out of session. In the end, the bill was taken off notice with the  Administration agreeing to set a policy immediately that notification will be made before layoffs occur. The policy is a good one, and please be assured that if this does not fix the problem, this committee will support future efforts to make this law. Rep. Hill worked tirelessly on this bill for state employees, and refused to let the bill die in committee, until we were able to accomplish some progress with it. Please take a moment to thank him.

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:

  1. Allow audio recordings of Level 1 hearings
  2. Allow employee representation and participation at Level 1 hearings when the agency has more than one person present.
  3. Expands the Board of Appeals to up to 18 members to accommodate 2 monthly hearing dates.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 have received little debate because of our negotiations with the Department of Human Resources. TSEA and DOHR will be working this summer to address a plan for reviewing performance evaluations that are opposed by the employee, and the Department has promised to provide assistance to any laid off state employee trying to find another state job. The only concession is that as an employee, you must request their assistance – TSEA can do this on your behalf or you can contact DOHR directly. In addition, the Department is preparing a section on their website for employees to request assistance in identifying any open positions for which you may qualify.

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

This bill should be heard in committee during the week of March 17. The House Education Subcommittee will discuss the pilot program at University of Memphis, as requested by the committee last year. TSEA does not view this pilot program as the answer to the problem because it 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. It is currently behind the budget in the House, and passed the Senate Education Committee after lengthy discussion and is now on its way to Senate Finance. With this status, the bill is in proper form for the Governor to fund in his Drive to 55 plan. Please remember, however that we are uncertain as the status of the Drive to 55 funds now that we have an additional budget shortfall.

Other Bills of Interest to TSEA

Autism Bill
HB1137 (Johnson) / SB1298 (Kyle)

One bill presented to the Council on Pensions & Insurance Committee increases 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 in the Insurance Committee to make sure this is addressed.

Preserving State Jobs for Veterans
HB1918 (J. Evans) / SB2004 (M. Green)

Recently, an employee of the State served time overseas in the National Guard. When he returned, the State fired him because apparently the state is not required to hold jobs for deployed soldiers. This employee sued and lost his case based on the fact that government entities are exempt from the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994. The Act establishes service members’ re-employment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up by the National Guard or reserves, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military services or obligation. Rep. Evans and Sen. Green realized this was a great disservice to our military personnel and state employees, and brought forth this bill. The bill has passed the House and will be heard in the Senate where is it expected to pass as well. Please consider writing both of these legislators to thank them for their continued support of our veterans and active duty state employees.

Pension Changes for Divorced Retirees

This summer, Senator Janice Bowling pulled out all the stops on an issue facing one of her constituents, a state employee who could not change her pension agreement after a divorce. TCRS would not allow her to reverse her decision to pay a portion of her retirement to her spouse, even though she was now divorced and had a divorce decree stating the benefit was to be returned to the employee. While this employee made a decision to leave the pension agreement alone, Sen. Bowling continued to work on the issue for future employees caught in similar situations. An administration bill regarding TCRS investment committees (SB2324/HB1957) contains a provision allowing a divorced retiree to terminate spouse benefits based on a court decree. We expect this bill to pass both the Senate and House within the next week. In the meantime, please thank Sen. Bowling for her relentless efforts to help our retirees.