Facing a deadline to pass bills out of the originating chamber, the House of Delegates and Senate members are working long hours in committee to quickly move legislation forward. As of Friday, the House of Delegates had passed 118 House bills, while the Senate had passed 164 Senate bills.
There are certainly positive pieces of legislation I have participated in developing that I look forward to highlighting, but unfortunately, the number of bills that would be damaging to working people keeps increasing, and because of the threat they pose, I feel compelled to discuss them first.
Especially concerning among the bills being worked on are those that are detrimental to our state’s teachers and other public employees.
1. Senate Bill 555, introduced by the Senate Majority Leader, would completely dissolve the Public Employee Insurance Agency, which oversees insurance plans for over 230,000 plan participants who work in state, county and city governments (including police officers and firefighters), and privatize the insurance.
2. Along the same lines, House Bill 2871 would change the mandate that PEIA pays 80 percent of premium costs while employees pay 20 percent to a ratio of 60 percent employer; 40 percent employee.
3. Committee substitute for HB 2817 has passed the Finance Committee and was to be read for third time on Tuesday. This bill will authorize reducing the annual payment into the Teachers Retirement System for unfunded liabilities by extending the term to thirty years. Analysts have reported it will cost the state an additional $1.55 billion dollars over the term. I’m not convinced we should add that additional long term cost to the taxpayers simply to cut $70 million from this years budget.
The Republican legislative leadership is also working on bills to dissolve numerous boards,commissions, and even some state agencies. House Bill 2820 would eliminate the position of state Alcohol Beverage Control Commissioner, while House Bill 2524 would eliminate the state Department of Education and the Arts. These are drastic measures, and I am concerned taxpayers may not realize that when such entities are cut, so are many of the government services and regulatory roles as well.
Another piece of legislation that will have serious consequences most people may be unaware of is Senate Bill 239. In an attempt to impede the free speech of workers and the groups that represent them, the bill would make employers responsible for monitoring any paycheck deduction an employee elects to have withheld, such as for union membership, charitable contributions, and possibly even health or retirement contributions, and ensure no portion of the money is spent on “political” activities.
While the intent is clearly to make union participation more difficult, in the end the legislation would hold employers criminally responsible for keeping track of and reporting all their employees’ paycheck deductions – a burden I believe most employers would not want.
Committee substitute for HB 2366, which authorizes the sale of Jackie Withrow Hospital passed the House floor on Friday, and HB 3102, authorizing the sale of Hopemont Hospital was to be up for passage on the House floor on Tuesday. These bills will authorize the sale of state hospitals to private corporations. While I support private investment, my concern is whether private, for profit investors have a meaningful interest in caring for low income patients who may not have adequate means of paying. I’m also extremely concerned about the future of the staff of these hospitals concerning their right to retain their jobs. Our state hospitals like Lakin have long been a place where these patients could turn that are reasonably close to any family they may have. Additionally, our state hospitals provide necessary jobs for members of their local communities.
As your representative, I welcome your input on how you think we should move forward. My office number is 304 340-3146 and my email isScott.Brewer@wvhouse.gov.
Thank you again for your trust and support,
Delegate Scott Brewer
Scott Brewer (D-New Haven) represents the 13th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.