By Ted Edmonds, 91st District Representative
We’re now in our last full week of the 2010 Regular Session, and it promises to be a busy one. The budget, road plan, domestic violence legislation, education initiatives — so many issues left to reach a final consensus on, or at least we hope.
The Senate is expected to send us their version of the budget and state road plan this week, and a committee of legislators from both parties and both chambers will work to develop the final compromise bills. You can rest assured I’ll make sure our local needs are heard when they talk.
In the meantime, the House passed some important bills last week that we hope the Senate will move quickly on. Tops among them is House Bill 540, which will help preserve the health insurance program for our retired teachers. For several years now, the state has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from the teachers’ pension system to cover the cost of retired teacher health insurance. Obviously, that can’t continue, and now is the right time to fix it.
HB 540 will require active teachers, as well as retired teachers under 65, to pay a little more into the health insurance fund. School districts, universities, state government, and other employers will also increase their share of the burden. This will allow us to fully fund the pension system rather than rob Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes.
Right now, the health plan’s “unfunded liability” — the amount it is expected to come up short in the future — is $6.2 billion. HB 530 would reduce that to $3.4 billion, a 45 percent savings.
As we all know, health insurance in any form is a tricky issue. Fortunately, this was a bipartisan subject, with both Republicans and Democrats agreeing on the need for a change. Teachers, retired teachers, and employers also signed onto this package. That’s a good reason why it passed without a single legislator voting against it. I hope the Senate follows suit.
We also passed HB 513, which passed the House 96-0, would establish a book program for preschool children statewide called “Books for Brains.” The bill would provide age-appropriate books for children age 5 and under with restricted funds through local partnerships.
Hopefully next week I’ll have a great deal of news for everyone, including the budget and road projects. Between now and then, though, I hope you’ll call me and your state senators at 1-800-372-7181, or call my office at 502-564-8100, ext. 818 to let me know how you feel about any of the bills waiting to be voted on.