Swift Start to the Legislative Session
The first three weeks of the legislative session have been incredibly busy, and while the General Assembly continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, legislators are also tackling many education topics outside of COVID-19.
Legislative committees heard information on federal relief funds, including an update on CARES funds and details about the new CRRSA funds. Presentations can be found here:
Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act Update (CRRSA)
Statewide Healthcare Benefits: The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs is taking testimony on two bills proposing changes to the process for statewide collective bargaining for public school employees’ health benefits: H.63 and H.81. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two bills is available in the written blog.
The first round of statewide bargaining resulted in a very brief decision from the out of state arbitrator without analysis of the basis for the decision representing over $200 million spent annually on school employees’ health benefits.
H.63 proposes several changes to the process:
requiring the Commission to negotiate a statewide grievance procedure for disputes concerning school employee health benefits,
requiring the Commission to determine any cash payments in lieu of receipt of healthcare benefits on a statewide basis,
disallowing an employee to receive cash in lieu of receipt of healthcare benefits from one school employer while simultaneously receiving health care benefits from another school employer,
utilizing a three-member arbitration panel including Vermont residents and a neutral member of the Vermont Labor Relations Board,
adjusting the schedule to require the panel to complete its hearing on or before October 15,
requiring both sides to submit a full cost estimate for their proposal with a breakdown of costs borne by employers and costs borne by employees on a statewide basis,
requiring the panel to determine which of the two proposals most appropriately balances access to health care benefits and reasonable cost containment to ensure the financial sustainability of the plan, and
requiring the panel’s decision to include the full cost estimates for each of the last best offers submitted by the parties and a full explanation of the basis for the decision.
H.81 is identical to S.226 as passed by the Senate in the last legislative session. It does not include the changes in H.63 as outlined above. Rather, H.81 removes the current requirements that:
the premium responsibility percentages for each plan tier shall be the same for all participating employees and
the school employers’ and school employees’ responsibilities for out-of-pocket expenses for each plan tier shall be the same for all participating employees.
VSBA supports H.63 because it makes needed changes to refine the statewide bargaining law, including the requirement for balancing appropriate access to health care benefits and reasonable cost containment to ensure the financial sustainability of the plan.
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs will be taking more testimony on these bills this week.
The Start of Session Education Legislative Report will provide detailed information on this topic as well as other topics and bills affecting education. Nearly three dozen bills affecting education have been introduced in the first three weeks of the legislative session. You can read bills in their entirety on the Vermont General Assembly website.