Convention 2019 Countdown
What a great sight to see…the just released Senate budget meets all of PSE’s priorities. Whether it is fully funding our WWU (Western Washington University) and CWU (Central Washington University) contracts, the PEBB (Public Employees Benefits Board) coalition insurance agreement, the SEBB (School Employees Benefits Board) coalition insurance agreement, and, fully funding four days of paraeducator training, this budget was as good as it gets.
Two other features of the budget important to PSE were:
…increasing special education funding by $156 million;
…funding a 2% and 2.1% increase over the next two years.
If you are a glutton for even more details about the budgets, go here.
This last week’s highlight was the House budget release, debate on the budget, and votes on the budget and amendments to it. As with most budgets, there was good (SEBB funding) and bad (reduced paraeducator training funding) in the budget.
The only new bills introduced now are those to implement the budget. One in particular, HB 2140, implements reduced funding for paraeducator training (reduced from four to two days). Here’s the Higher Ed and K 12 bill reports.
Senate budget testimony, debates, and votes will dominate next week. Additionally, committees will pushing final bills through by Wednesday, April 3.
Yesterday, the House released their 2019-21 operating budget. On our priority issues, it only fails in one area: paraeducator training. First the good news:
—It funds our WWU (Western Washington University) and CWU (Central Washington University) contracts;
—It funds the PEBB insurance coalition agreement;
—It funds the SEBB insurance coalition agreement;
—It funds a 2% and 2.1% salary increase for the next two school years.
The disappointing news is that instead of funding four days per year of paraeducator training, they funded two days. We have put together a variety of lobbying efforts (including code blue members yesterday were in town) to convince House members that the bill we passed in 2017 that required four days per year of funding should be honored.
On another note, PSE strongly supports the new revenue sources that will be necessary to fund our contracts and insurance agreements.
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: