Friday, May 15, 2009

Statewide Teacher Health Insurance on the House Floor (or Zombie Alert!). Everybody's favorite bill, SF 915 (the mandatory statewide teacher health insurance bill) is now being discussed on the House floor. I need to apologize to the Shared Services initiative, which I described the other day as being akin to a series of zombie movies. Shared Services only looks like a zombie compared to this bill, which has risen after being defeated and/or vetoed again and again and again and again. All we need is Michael Jackson, complete with his white glove, the song "Thriller" playing in the background, and a pack of dancing zombies to make it official.

But here we are again, listening to the same arguments Representative Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato) has an amendment on the floor right now making the program optional if the school board and bargaining unit agree to opt out of the mandatory pool, which would be greatly preferred to the mandatory plan. Debate is, as usual, quite spirited. The Brynaert amendment passed on a vote of 74-53, making the proposal optional at this point. The bill still has to go to the Senate, where attempts will be made to remove the Brynaert amendment, but at least at this point, the bill is less bad.

Representative Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis) now has offered an amendment that would lower the thresholds of the high deductible plans in the bill. That amendment failed on a voice vote.

Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) has offered an amendment that would allow self-insured districts with more than seven bargaining units to opt out of the plan. The Kahn amendment failed on a vote of 43-85.

It's Representative Kurt Zellars' (R-Maple Grove) turn to offer an amendment. His amendment would require an actuarial study before the plan could take effect. After extended debate, the roll is being taken and the amendment failed on a vote of 51-77.

Representative Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) offered an amendment which he withdrew after a point of order was raised by Representative Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph), the chief author of SF 915.

Representative Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) is offering an amendment that requires that long-term care insurance be offered as part of the coverage package offered under the mandatory statewide insurance pool. In an odd set of arguments made during the debate, opponents of the amendment claimed that forcing long-term insurance to be part of the health care package was an infringement on the local bargaining process. Say what?!? Isn't this whole mandatory health care pool an infringement on the local bargaining process. At any rate, the amendment failed on a vote of 18-100. So much for logic.

Representative Hoppe offered two amendments, one, that would limit increases to no more than 25% over a two-year period, that was adopted on a voice vote and another, that would have added three state department commissioners as ex-officio members of the board that oversees the plan that was defeated.

Representative Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) offered an unsuccessful amendment that would have made employers not liable for the obligations of the statewide health care plan.

Representative Connie Doepke (R-Wayzata), a former Wayzata school board member, is now offering an amendment that would truly make the plan optional by changing "must" to "may." In effect, this takes the Brynaert amendment one step further, as a school board could opt out of the program without approval of the local teacher union. This amendment failed on a vote of 51-79.

There are no more amendments, so here we are at third reading and the final vote on the 80-48. The bill now heads back to the Senate where the Senate will have to concur with the amendments placed on the bill in the House or move to send the bill to conference committee. The presence of the Brynaert amendment makes it likely that the bill will end up in conference committee.

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