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Pay hike was not enough?
Last-minute resolution could give state senators cheaper insurance

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The session of the Alabama Legislature that started with lawmakers giving themselves a 61 percent pay raise ended with senators passing a resolution that could give them a reduced rate on state employee health insurance coverage.

In the closing moments of the 2007 regular session Thursday night, the Alabama Senate passed a resolution asking that senators be treated "as are all state employees," which could mean a significant reduction in the cost of premiums for senators who receive state employee health insurance.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said he's alarmed by the resolution, particularly considering that legislators voted themselves a pay raise on March 8, the second day of the regular session.

"We've got the salary up. If we start getting the benefits up, that's a dangerous slope I don't want to go down. It could get to where people will do whatever it takes to get the job and do whatever it takes to keep the job," Hubbard said.

The resolution by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, passed on a routine voice vote with little notice Thursday night, not long before Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. gaveled the 2007 session to a close at midnight.

The executive director of the Alabama State Employees' Insurance Board, William Ashmore, said state law currently allows legislators to receive insurance, but they must pay the full cost of the coverage. Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta, said he pays $690 a month for the full state family coverage.

By comparison, regular state workers pay $180 a month for family coverage plus $22 extra if they are smokers.

Regular state employees pay nothing for single coverage and $22 if they smoke.

But Ashmore said state law also allows lawmakers to request as a group to participate in insurance coverage provided for local governments. He said under this plan, local governments are charged the full cost of the insurance, but it's up to the government entity to decide if it will pay part of the cost or charge the full rate.

Ashmore said it would be up to the Senate to decide whether senators wishing to participate would pay the whole premium, the lower rate charged regular state employees or something in between.

McClain said he personally has insurance through his regular employer, but felt senators should be treated like other state workers.

"I think it's fair. You still have to pay for it," McClain said. He said he intended the resolution to apply to members of both the House and Senate.

But House Clerk Greg Pappas said because it was a Senate resolution and mentions only the Senate, it would not apply to House members.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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