Legislative Update - Week 13
After 29 legislative days and three consecutive weeks of late night sessions, the Alabama State Legislature passed the General Fund budget and it has now been transmitted to the Governor’s office. It is expected that the Governor will sign the General Fund budget. The final budget saw few changes to departmental budgets. The $10 million increase to the funding of state employee insurance was retained. The language expressing “the intent of the legislature that the Governor and/or the State Personnel Board not reinstate the freeze on earned merit raises after the expiration of the current freeze on December 31, 2013” remained in the budget. Regrettable, the conditional appropriation (that is if excess money is available) providing state employees with a COLA was unconstitutional, thus it was required to be removed from the budget. This was a long shot since excess funds for the General Fund is unlikely, but still worth trying. ASEA specifically thanks Representative Craig Ford and Representative Joe Hubbard for their efforts.
Language was also added to the budget in Conference Committee encouraging the SEIB not to cancel dental benefits. It states, “the Legislature recognizes the importance of dental care to the health and welfare of state employees and strongly recommends that the State Employee’s Insurance Board continue offering dental benefits to participants.” While not legally binding it is a strong message to SEIB.
After a long fight SB 231, as substituted and amended, passed the House and was signed by the Governor. SB 231, sponsored by Senator Pittman, privatizes the management and operation of a lodge and conference center at Gulf State Park. The legislation does not protect state employee jobs but it does require that the Gulf State Park project to be commenced by December 31, 2015, that only monies from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill (currently referred to as the BP settlement monies) be used, and that a market study analysis be completed and approved before any action can be taken. In continued discussions with the Administration and the Department of Conservation, ASEA is hopeful that some jobs will be merit system jobs.
The Governor signed SB 268 into law on May 1. SB 268, sponsored by Senator Scofield, and HB 329, sponsored by Representative Standridge, prohibits the Ethics Commission from disclosing to the public personal identifying information that is part of any statement of economic interest, including the names of dependent children. Additionally, it requires the Ethics Commission to exclude this information from any electronic database accessible to the public.
HB 89, by Representative McClendon, passed the Senate and is on the Governor’s desk. This legislation authorizes SEHIP to create a Health Savings Account (HSA) or high deductible health insurance plan as well as a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) for active and retired state employees.
SB 116, sponsored by Senator Williams, which would combine information technology personnel into one state agency, has passed the Senate and the House Committee on Technology and Research and is pending on the House calendar. While the Information Technology (IT) jobs currently at Data Systems Management (DSM) are clearly protected, it is less clear that the IT jobs in the separate state agencies are equally protected. ASEA is working with the bill’s sponsors, Senator Phil Williams and Representative Phil Williams, to clarify this issue in future legislation.
Other legislation that had no movement this week and is dead for the session includes:
SB 209, sponsored by Senator Brewbaker and co-sponsored by Senators Reed, McGill, Ward, Dial, Fielding, Allen, Holley and Marsh, calls for a state employee COLA in Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014. SB 213, sponsored by Senator Keahey and co-sponsored by Senator Irons, calls for an annual COLA based on the consumer price index.
HB 328, sponsored by Representative Wren and co-sponsored by Representatives Love, Barton, Merrill, Mask and Beckman, calls for a state employee COLA in Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014. HB 201, sponsored by Representative Hubbard, calls for a state employee COLA in 2013, 2014 and 2015. HB 200, sponsored by Representative Hubbard, mirrors HB 201, but is for retired state employees.
SB 196, sponsored by Senator Orr, is a Constitutional Amendment that will, in effect, privatize state parks. ASEA opposes SB 196 based on the loss of state employee jobs this legislation would cause, estimated at up to 600 jobs if fully implemented.
SB 290, sponsored by Senator Paul Sanford, provides that the proceeds the State of Alabama receives from any monetary settlement or legal disposition from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill be used to repay any funds transferred from the Alabama Trust Fund. ASEA supported this legislation because using this one time money to pay off debts of the General Fund will free up General Fund revenues otherwise used to pay off these debts over time. That would allow those recurring General Fund monies to be used to address the pay crisis of state employees.
SB 439, sponsored by Senator Marsh, would combine the SEHIP (State Employees) and PEEHIP (Education Employees) boards together into one board. SE 439 was amended in committee to ensure that no employees lost their jobs as a result of this legislation.
While ASEA’s all out effort for a COLA in this session was not reached, ASEA wishes to thank all of the sponsors and co-sponsors of COLA legislation for their efforts to address the state employee pay crisis. ASEA also wants to thank Senator Arthur Orr (the sponsor) and Senator Roger Bedford (the author) of the merit raise language in the General Fund budget.