Sunday, May 17, 2009

So Much for Separation of Church and State. It was church at 9:00 and state at 11:30 as I am back at the Capitol watching the teacher mandatory health insurance pool conference committee. The conference committee is working out the differences that exist between the bills.

Going in, there aren't a lot of big differences between the bill., The largest difference comes from a combination of amendments offered by Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) in the House State Government Finance Division and Representative Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato) on the House floor that would together allow districts who were either independently self-insured or part of a self-insurance pool by January 20, 2010, to opt out of the program by joint decision of the board and the teachers' local union I was a bit confused about the effects of the Brynaert amendment the other night in thinking that it allowed districts that were fully insured to opt out. That is not the case.

Teacher unions in districts that are self-insured as individual districts by July 1, 2009, can opt out of the program as the bill is part of the Senate bill.

The compromise that appears to have taken place is that districts that are individually self-insured will be able to opt out by joint decision between school boards and local unions. The deadline to be self-insured is July 1, 2009.

The final compromise has been informally agreed to and the conference committee is now breaking. They intend to come back later to look at the revised language in a bit and most likely will approve it. Here's hoping this thing is heading for a its annual veto.

In Other News. The Governor signed the E-12 funding bill, "reluctantly" in his words, without any line-item vetoes. His signing message was short and expressed disappointment that the conference committee did not include the $198 million in funding for QComp and Pay for Progress that he proposed in his budget and did not any of his reform initiatives, particularly the Teaching Transformation Act. His only other comment was directed toward the five-year exemption from requiring students to pass the 11th grade GRADS test in mathematics in order to receive a diploma.

Offers Circulating. Negotiations continue between the Legislature and the Governor, but if I were a betting man (and I am not), I'd say we leave here tomorrow night without an agreement. The Legislature has offered to cut more than they already have, but the sticking point remains the $1 billion in revenue generation that is keeping the sides apart. The Governor has clung to his plan to bond for cash while the Legislature wants a tax increase (either permanent or temporary) to bridge the gap.

As I stated yesterday, the stakes are high on both sides as the DFL-controlled Legislature is going to look as though it was unable to seal the deal, but the Governor is going to have to make some very painful cuts and he is going to own those decisions. We can rest assured that if there is no agreement, finger-pointing will replace hockey as the official state sport this summer.

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