This week was a series of committee hearings with the highlight being last night’s Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing on changing local levies (SB 5313).
Fewer and fewer K 12 and Higher Education bills to focus on but we are happy that 1575 – union rights, 1658 – paraeducator, 1308/5360 – pension default, continue to work there way through the process.
The House will be presenting and voting on its Budget starting on Monday. PSE will be closely watching for full funding for our higher education agreements, paraeducator training, and, the SEBB agreement.
During the debate of HB 1813, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (from Kent) praised the value of SEBB so much that I am including his comments below. It’s worth the two minutes he speaks about why he likes SEBB so much (helping out classified employees) and wants to give the same benefits to subcontracted transportation employees. 1813 passed on a partisan vote of 56-39.
Here is Sullivan’s remarks:
Yesterday, the SEBB (School Employees Benefits Board) completed its fifteenth meeting since October 2017. Numerous resolutions supported by PSE (and WEA) and opposed by school administrators were passed by the Board (starting on page 176-195 in this Board briefing book). While it was great to “win” those debates, the highlight for me was the presentation of the UMP (Uniform Medical Plan) “not to exceed” employee and employer monthly insurance premiums for the four health insurance plans the State is sponsoring. Note that these rates are not final but the only direction they can go from here is down before they become final (good news).
While this is a complicated table the great news is:
…..single employee premiums range from $25 – $101;
…..full family employees premiums range from $75 – $303. Yes, that rights, full family medical, dental, vision, along with an employee life insurance, employee AD&D (Accidental Death and Disability) and employee LTD (Long Term Disability) all for $303 per month.
Here are the plan descriptions to see what the UMP plans will pay for.
Please note that the other insurance plans are still in negotiations with the HCA (Health Care Authority). I hope the other health insurance carriers work hard to meet and hopefully offer plans even cheaper than UMP! The expectation is that rates for those plans will be available in July.
Snow slowed things down for a couple of days but the February 22 deadline to get bills out of committee resulted in additional hearings this week to get their work done on time. I was interested in two school transportation bills heard this week: SB 5263 – making it easier to become a bus driver, and, HB 1813 – forcing transportation contractors to provide SEBB like benefits and funding.
It’s the last week of the first major deadline – February 22. Of all the bills under consideration next week, the only one I don’t like and wish would go away is HB 1803 – allows 10 more small school districts (less than 500 students) to waive the 180 day school year (go to school the same number of instructional hours per year but fewer days). I’m also looking forward to committee approval of two pro-labor bills: HB 1575 /SB 5623 (see earlier entry) and SB 5169 – requiring employer neutrality when employees are exercising their union rights.
Since there was little if any access to the Capitol because of the over foot of snow, the legislature had no choice other than to cancel hearings on Monday. They were back at it on Tuesday but even then it was a late start. It is very unusual for the legislature to close down during session (some legislative veterans couldn’t recall it happening over the last couple decades). That’s because they are on tight deadlines to get their work done on time.
They are back at it putting in a couple extra hours here and there to get back on schedule.
There are a couple paraeducator bills; SB 5413 – improving paraeducator ability to become a teacher and HB 1658 – perfecting upcoming paraeducator training under consideration. Also being considered are a couple of school transportation bills; HB 1057 – cameras and seat belts on busses, HB 1813 – requiring transportation contractors to provide SEBB like benefits to employees, SB 5263 – reducing hiring restrictions and training of bus drivers.
Requiring school districts to purchase new (big) busses with shoulder and lap seat belts and installing stop paddle video cameras on all busses was an issue I was most interested in this week (read an earlier blog). In the hearing there wasn’t much opposition (PSE signed in with concerns). The high costs of the bill is likely to slow down HB 1057 in future debates.
Another major issue I was closely tracking (read a previous entry) was changing state law to recognize the recent US Supreme Court Janus decision. HB 1575 received positive support from unions and not surprisingly hostile opposition by the Freedom Foundation.
Next Week’s Hearings
There are numerous hearings next week that bring up a variety of issues that we like and don’t like (I think democrats are giving courtesy hearings to republican bills that bring up issues important to them but hostile to us). On the “like” side are the rights of workers bills HB 1575/SB 5623, ensuring employer neutrality while employees exercising their rights (SB 5169), bilingual teacher and paraeducator bonus (HB 1468), updating paraeducator training requirements (HB 1658), requiring subcontractors provide their employees same insurance benefits as are provided by SEBB (HB 1813), paraeducator conditional scholarship improvements (SB 5413), sign language interpreter supports (HB 1623), and, simple majority passage of bonds (HJR 4203).
Once a week, legislative leaders from each party meet with reporters to present their perspective of the current issues facing the legislature as well as the progress of those issues during the give and take with reporters. Jim Camden, reporter from the Spokane Spokesman Review, asked the Democratic leaders at the press conference how the legislature will help school districts pay for the locally funded school employees that will receive insurance benefits because of SEBB.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, and Senate Floor Leader Marko Liias, provided a spirited explanation of the great policy behind SEBB as well as a solution for school districts (raise local levy capacity).
They did such a great job answering the question (both defending SEBB and explaining how it would be funded), I’ve included the four minute give and take at the press conference:
Another great article from the Seattle Times, this time from Sue Birch, the executive director of the Health Care Authority (HCA) – the agency responsible for implementing SEBB. Making it even more meaningful for PSE members, Patty Estes, the PSE representative on the SEB Board, is the focus of the article.
Thanks Sue and Patty!
SEBB (School Employees Benefits Board) met this week and continued to put more details in place. Each monthly meeting consists of one piece after the other being put together by SEBB and implemented by the HCA (Health Care Authority). I realized the other day that the HCA is expertly guiding us through all the decisions/rules necessary so that 140,000 K 12 employees will have the best plans possible when they start signing up for insurance October 1, 2019.
At this meeting, there weren’t what you would call “highlights” but they did decide matters related to employees who are on leave of absence and elements of the Wellness Plan implementation.
Something most employees care deeply about, pharmaceutical coverage, received a great deal of time and attention – see materials starting on page 78.
Finally, the HCA unveiled the legislatively required report which recommended that K 12 retirees who are not yet on Medicare be placed in the SEBB system rather than where they are now, the PEBB system. This wouldn’t take place until 2022.
At Wednesday’s Senate Ways and Mean Committee, they conducted a “work session” on SEBB. I am including the entire video (a little over one hour) because it was exciting to hear the questions/comments about the need to provide affordable, quality healthcare to part-time classified employees.
After getting a briefing from Senate staff, and David Iseminger from the HCA (Health Care Authority), Shawn Lewis, spokesperson for the SEBB Labor Coalition (and Government Relations Director for WEA), presented the Coalition’s positions on State funding for SEBB. After hearing from Shawn, they finished the hearing with two school district representatives.
Also, during Shawn’s presentation, we handed out this letter from the Coalition.
I was very pleased with the tone and direction of the discussion!