Teachers unions and school boards are at odds over possible changes in health insurance program enrollment.
Currently, teachers’ unions have authority to take action on their health plans without the agreement of districts. They may enroll in programs such as the Public Employees Insurance Program unilaterally. Sponsored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), HF371/ SF247* would no longer allow that.
The bill would require that teachers unions and the districts agree to health insurance plan changes before they could become effective. On Jan. 31, leaders from both districts and service cooperatives, which help school districts to buy insurance, testified in support of the bill.
Grace Keliher, director of governmental relations at the Minnesota School Board Association, spoke of her dissatisfaction with the current system, calling the bill “common sense reform” that “brings balance back to the bargaining table.”
Testifiers from teachers’ unions disagreed, saying that the bill would negatively impact their options for health coverage. Michael McKenzie, president of the White Bear Lake Teachers Association, said that keeping PEIP as a readily available option for teachers allowed them to bargain with private insurance companies and lower the amount teachers had to pay for insurance.
“I believe the current law saved us,” McKenzie said.
The bill would also affect any refunds that might become available from a health plan. Teachers unions allege that money belongs to them, while school boards assert that allowing them to receive the money would let them invest it in schools.
Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron) expressed support for the bill, saying, “The majority of money comes from the district, from taxpayers. Presently, they do not have a voice in who would be giving that coverage. I think this bill gives back that voice.”
Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) raised some questions regarding the bill, adding that she would like to see amendments that safeguard teachers.
The bill has passed in the committee and is moving to the House Floor. Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) is the Senate sponsor.