The 2015 legislative session ended on an embarrassing, and potentially dangerous, note. They didn’t complete a budget for one of the state’s department. Specifically, the Public Employees Retirement System.
The House and Senate were at odds over the decision by the PERS board to switch the state’s health insurance policy – the one covering all of the state employees as well as lawmakers – from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Sanford. The House argues that Sanford, a relatively new player in the health insurance marketplace, hasn’t proved itself capable of taking the health insurance needs of tens of thousands of state employees. The Senate, on the other hand, argues that this is not the Legislature’s judgment to make and that interfering in the contract signed with Sanford would be meddling at best and the genesis for lengthy and costly litigation at worst.
In the closing days of the session neither the House nor the Senate would budget on their respective version of the PERS budget, and ultimately both chambers went sine die with no resolution.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has ruled in an opinion that the Legislature needn’t necessarily act – that they can continue operating at presently appropriated levels – but lawmakers were feeling a little spooked at setting that sort of precedent will be coming back into session next week (the first time in state history that the Legislature has called itself back into session).
Legislative Management convened a committee to hash out the differences between the House and the Senate, and you can read their final report on the matter below.
Basically, the only concession the House is getting from the Senate is the expansion of the PERS board to include two lawmakers – one Republican and one Democrat – to be appointed by the chairman of Legislative Management.
Republican lawmakers I’ve spoken to say they expect the matter to be over quickly next week when they meet in full session. There seems to be little appetite among Republicans in the Senate or House to drag out what has already been an ugly intra-party food fight.
I doubt many in the public at large are aware of, or even care to be aware of, the various arguments on this issue. But one thing they’re absolutely aware of is the idea that the Legislature didn’t get their job done earlier this year, and it’s squabbling among Republicans that caused the problem.