This Washington

Republicans Side with Teachers' Union?

By Josh Feit March 8, 2012

Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler moves to defer vote on teachers' health care reform

Here's a role reversal: The Republicans in the state senate just deferred a vote on a bill that would have scaled back the teachers' union's bargaining power on health insurance. The Republicans are typically at odds with the union, the WEA.

The  bill, being proposed by WEA antagonist conservative Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) and his education reform compatriot Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), would put teachers in a state-run pool for health care insurance, revamping the existing model (favored by the WEA and big insurers such as Premera Blue Cross) in which the union bargains for coverage district by district on the free market and can choose to be part of the WEA’s statewide pooled plan with Premera.

According to its proponents, the legislation would rein in state costs (currently about $1 billion a year) and make state spending more transparent, create efficiency by cutting out middleman brokers, and lower premiums for family members (likely true, according to nonpartisan house analysis).

The union complains that the bill would raise individual premiums (likely true, according to nonpartisan analysis), saddle the state with a costly new bureaucracy, and roll back collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin-style.

The bill is one of the puzzle pieces in the budget negotiations, with fiscal conservatives like Sen. Hobbs demanding long-term cost saving reforms, citing it as a prime example.

Hobbs brought the bill up for a vote this afternoon, but the vote was deferred 26-23, with Republicans "standing in the way of reform" as a Democratic staffer cleverly put it. The Democrats have traditionally been the ones who have been accused of blocking reforms that undercut WEA strength. The motion to defer was made by Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-9, Ritzville).

The current teachers' health insurance model funnels 60 percent of its members to a Premera/WEA plan. As Fizz reported this morning, the GOP initially supported the legislation, but Premera has reportedly been lobbying hard to peel off  Republican votes. We have a call in to the Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Litzow, to get a read on what happened on the GOP side. We also have a call in to Sen. Schoesler.

After the vote, the senate recessed for caucus.

We'll report back if the bill comes back up, but it's not likely to. Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Des Moines) a co-sponsor and chair of the senate health care committee who led negotiations on the bill and thought she had agreement told PubliCola: "The Republicans took this bill down, and now we're back to square one. I'm extremely frustrated."
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