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Bill to nix labor rep from PEIA board goes to Senate

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

Legislation to remove labor union representation from the PEIA Finance Board (SB 221) is headed to the Senate floor, after advancing Tuesday from the Government Organization Committee.

The bill would shrink the board from 10 to eight appointed members, and would remove a requirement that one of the appointees represent organized labor.

Additionally, it would require that the appointee representing education employees be employed as a teacher for three years prior to the appointment, and that the appointee representing public employees be a full- or part-time employee of a public body for at least three years.

The bill would also bar registered lobbyists from serving on the board.

“It’s a classic example of their priorities being all out of whack,” PEIA Finance Board member Josh Sword said of the bill.

Sword, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, currently represents education employees on the board.

Under the legislation, Sword and Elaine Harris, a Communications Workers of America international representative who represents labor interests on the board, would both be removed.

PEIA executive director Ted Cheatham said he believes the intent of having a Finance Board is to give the constituents of the health insurance program a say on plan benefits and costs. He noted that other health insurance plans such as Blue Cross don’t have similar boards.

Asked if he thought the proposed composition of the board would achieve that goal, Cheatham told the committee, “I do, and I think the current composition does as well.”

As for changing the makeup of the Finance Board, Cheatham told the committee, “That is your decision.”

Sword, however, said he believes that PEIA benefits from having union representatives on the Finance Board, since they can efficiently get word out to union members about proposed changes in PEIA coverage.

Each year, the Finance Board meets each fall to design and approve benefits plans for active employees and retirees, based on available state funding and premium rates. In December, the board approved a 2017-18 benefits plan that cuts benefits for state and public school employees by $28 million, primarily by increasing deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

Sword noted that the Legislature has yet to propose a budget bill to address the $500 million shortfall in the 2017-18 budget, or to act on Gov. Jim Justice’s road bond proposal, a plan he said would put 48,000 West Virginians to work.

“Yet, they can find the time to mess with the composition of the PEIA Finance Board,” Sword said.

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