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Eye on Boise: Health committee has plenty to peruse

Sun., Jan. 15, 2012

BOISE – There was quite the spectacle at the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee’s first meeting last week when chairwoman Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, had legislative pages bring in tall stacks of paper – 906-page printouts of the federal Affordable Care Act – for each committee member.

McGeachin, describing the voluminous bill as the “Bible” that her committee members should study this year, said she’ll begin hosting “weekly Bible sessions” starting next Tuesday, where “anyone who has a question about this law” can participate.

McGeachin earlier cast the only “no” vote in the Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force against an Otter administration bill to set up a state-run health insurance exchange. The panel endorsed the bill on an 11-1 vote. She said at the time that she didn’t object to a state-run exchange but had some concerns about how that bill was drafted.

At the committee meeting, McGeachin said she was concerned that the federal health care reform law radically expands the government’s powers, the Twin Falls Times-News reports, saying, “Some of us feel we are fighting for the life of our country on this issue.”

She used her own campaign funds for the printing.

What yes, no votes will mean

Looking ahead to the November general election, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa offers this voter-information tip: There will be three referenda on the ballot addressing the Students Come First school reform plan. That’s the package pushed through last year by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna to shift funds from salaries to technology boosts, performance pay and online learning, while trimming teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

“Folks should remember that a ‘yes’ vote would be in favor of the legislation that was passed by the Legislature dealing with Students Come First,” Ysursa told lawmakers on Friday as he made his annual budget presentation. “If you’re against the legislation and do not like it and wish that it be repealed, then the person would cast a ‘no’ vote. I think it’s going to be pretty clear.”

State worker pay lags

The last time the Legislature funded raises for state employees was in fiscal year 2009, according to Idaho Division of Human Resources head Vicki Tokita. As a result, state worker salaries now lag 18.6 percent behind market rates, up from 15 percent in 2009.

Gov. Butch Otter targeted that market lag in the early days of his administration and proposed raises, but that was before the state’s economy tanked. He had called for raising pay while cutting benefits, to more closely match private-sector compensation.

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked how state employees’ total compensation package, including benefits as well as salaries, compares with the private sector. State Department of Administration chief Teresa Luna responded that the state last examined total compensation a couple of years ago; at that time, compared to seven large Idaho employers, state employee compensation was “about 15 percent less than the private sector, including benefits, pension and retirement,” Luna said.

PERSI earnings strong

The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, PERSI, “has experienced two good years of returns and we’re cautiously optimistic about the future,” reports PERSI executive director Don Drum. “Fiscal year 2011 was a very successful year for PERSI. … We actually had our highest growth in the last 25 years in the fund this year.”

During the fiscal year, the fund grew by $1.9 billion, and at its conclusion June 30 was approaching fully funded status at 90.2 percent funded; the U.S. Government Accountability Office considers plans that are 80 percent funded healthy.

In May 2011, PERSI hit a historic high in its asset value at $12.2 billion; that’s a gain of nearly 65 percent since the market low on March 9, 2009. Historically, PERSI’s 46-year average returns are 8.31 percent.

Thomas named state appellate defender

Gov. Otter has named Sara B. Thomas, longtime chief deputy state appellate public defender, to succeed Molly Huskey as head of that office; Huskey was appointed a 3rd District judge last month. Thomas, of Meridian, has been with the office for 13 years; she has a degree in criminal justice administration from Boise State University and a law degree from the University of Idaho. The state appellate public defender provides representation to indigent defendants convicted of felonies in state district court; the office has a staff of 20.

Reporter Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854. Follow the Eye on Boise blog at spokesman.com/boise.


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