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Board rejects Senate’s bid for insurance

By M.J. Ellington · 334-262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The State Employee Insurance Board said no to the Senate’s request for state-funded health insurance Wednesday but lawmakers could return with a plan covering House and Senate members.

Late on the last day of the regular session, the Senate passed a resolution on an unrecorded voice vote requesting health insurance coverage for senators at state expense. The Insurance Board rejected the Senate application Wednesday, citing procedural problems.

Joint resolution needed?

The Retirement Systems of Alabama head, David Bronner, who serves on the board, voted to reject the Senate application because it was not a joint resolution that included House members. But Bronner cautioned the Insurance Board.

He said the board faced the possibility of alienating the one group in the state that could help relieve the state’s $20 billion, long-term obligation to provide benefits for state retirees and education employees. Bronner said Alabama is the only southern state that does not provide health coverage for legislators.

The board’s vote brought a mixed reaction from Morgan and Limestone legislators. Some said the Senate was wrong to have a last-minute voice vote on insurance coverage with no way for people to check how they voted. Others said it is time for Alabama to join all other Southern states and provide the benefit.

None of the local lawmakers thought the Legislature would retaliate.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was pleased the board rejected coverage. He said it was adding, “insult to injury for the taxpayers of Alabama,” just months after the Legislature voted itself a $19,000-per-year pay raise.

“If this is what the majority want, let us do it in the light of day with a recorded vote so their constituents can see how they voted,” Orr said.

Orr also pointed out that lawmakers have access to state insurance benefits for themselves and their families by paying the full cost, about $640 per month for family coverage. Currently, 33 members of the 139 sitting members of the Legislature have state-funded health coverage because they or their spouses work for a state college or public school.

“They can take care of themselves and pay for that insurance if they want with that raise,” Orr said, of lawmakers.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, said he has health insurance coverage through his employer and does not need the benefit.

He also questioned whether it is appropriate not to cover lawmakers when other public officials, including some appointed to their positions, are covered.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said if the issue goes back to the Legislature and includes House members, he still has reservations about supporting it.

“We have a lot of work to do to sort out problems first,” Hammon said. “Now is not the time to address this.”

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