Teamsters Local 959 Legislative Update April 22, 2013
From Barbara Huff Tuckness-Director Legislative & Government Affairs
The first session of the 28th Legislature ended Sunday, April 14, 2013 with some heavy lifting on some huge issues and projects. The legislators worked through several weekends in the end to complete their due diligence on the oil/gas tax, pipeline(s) and Capital budget as well as other issues that we’re glad did not make it through the process. The following is a recap of those issues impacting our members directly and indirectly, public and private sector.
· SB 8/HB 6 Pharmacy Audit, put limitation on our Pharmacy Benefit Manager’s (PBM) ability to conduct audits of pharmacies within the state. The PBM’s we hire are tasked with reducing medication errors and prescription drug costs; developing and maintaining the formulary contract with pharmacies; and negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers. The HB bill did not move out of Labor & Commerce. The SB is still in Senate Labor & Commerce. There was an attempt to negotiate some changes to the bill that could have worked, but unfortunately it failed.
· SB 18 Capital Budget, passed in the final hours. The House Finance committee rolled out their version of the bill late afternoon on Sunday, April 14th, without the much needed funding for the Railroad of $19.1 million dollars. In the final hours with the assistance of the Speaker and Representative Hawker, Representative Stoltze offered amendment #6, authorizing $19.1 million dollars. Without this funding the Railroad would have been looking at additional layoffs and reconfigurations of their provided services. The funding will help cover the cost for the federal mandate to install Positive Train Control (PTC). In addition, the bill provided funding for UAA and UAF buildings (for those in construction) and quite a few road projects, at $2.2 billion.
· SB 21 Oil Tax, after 3 years, passed in final hours. This bill rewrites ACES; it provides for a base tax rate paid by the producers at 35%. It eliminates progressity and provides for tax credit provisions intended to help the independents who are developing projects but are finding it difficult to produce. The bill also provides for gross revenue exclusion for oil PRODUCTION in new units and new or expanded participating areas. The overall intent of the changes is to encourage new production. While there will be an initial negative impact to the general fund, it is anticipated that the new production over future years will stabilize then increase decline rate, thereby generating revenue in future years, but not at the rate we are currently experiencing. The new production should equate to new jobs, stability and future opportunities for our children and grandchildren 15-50 years out. The core principles-FAIR TO ALL ALASKANS-ENCOURAGE NEW OIL PRODUCTION-SIMPLIFY AND RESTORE BALANCE TO ALASKA’S FISCAL SYSTEM-MAKE ALASKA COMPETITVE FOR THE LONG TERM. With these in place Alaska should be looking at a better future. We want to thank all of our members statewide who testified on this very important piece of legislation, it did make a difference.
· SB 23 FBX LNG, passed this session. This bill authorizes AIDEA to provide financing and bonds for a natural gas production and distribution system in Fairbanks. This is huge for our members and everyone else in Fairbanks and the rural areas as well. It will provide hundreds of jobs, including many new “trucking” opportunities, of which Rick Boyles is already having discussions. We want to thank all of our Fairbanks’ members who took the time to testify on this bill. You did make a difference.
· HB 76 Unemployment Compensation Fund, passed, but not without being amended. We testified in opposition to Section 6 of the bill that would allow the Department of Labor to suspend rate increases. We argued that to make such adjustments could negatively impact the fund (which employees and employers pay into to provide unemployment benefits during times of economic hardship) and ask them to remove Section 6. House Labor & Commerce, while not removing the section, put a sunset of 2018 on the section. In the final days, House Finance committee reduced the sunset to 2016, which passed and changes concurred to with Senate.
· SB 57 Pupil Transportation bill passed, this bill allows of CPI adjustments to cover pupil transportation cost for school districts through November 1, 2015. Prior to that date, the State will be releasing an RFP statewide in an attempt to negotiate with one company, anticipating a reduction in overall cost. The per student amount available to the school districts will be adjusted annually according to CPI-Anchorage.
· SB90/HB 196, mandates that all school district employees fall under the State’s Health Insurance plan. The Senate bill sat in Senate Finance committee after a few hearings. The House bill is in House Labor & Commerce. Chairman Olson may have work sessions during the interim on this bill. Some districts have come strongly opposed while those smaller districts are looking for relief. While we oppose the bill in its current form, we strongly welcome the discussion regarding the high cost of health benefits.
· HB 4 In State Gasline-ASAP, this bill passed with our support. As Rick Boyles stated in his letter of support, “HB 4 creates a medium to long term economic development opportunity for the state of Alaska to bring Alaska’s gas to market. The project should provide jobs for Alaska residents and the best way to ensure that is to include project labor agreement.” During the final hearing of the bill in Senate Finance, Senator Bishop was able to get an Alaska Gasline Development Corporation representative to agree that there would be at least two. One of two things could happen as a result of passage of this bill, we see a smaller line built or it becomes the pressure value to for AGIA to happen.
· HB 152, employers who terminate participation in the defined benefit retirement plan or the defined contribution retirement plan of the Public Employees Retirement System. This bill is in House Labor & Commerce. The bill addresses a public employer who terminates an employee classification of a department, group or individual. Currently there is a cost associated with the required termination study. There is also an actuarial cost to the employer for future benefits due employees whose coverage is terminated and past service cost. While the intentions of this bill, reducing cost to public employers, who for example discontinue a program, but move the employee(s) impacted to other jobs within the system are still penalized. The bill as currently written could open a huge wave of unnecessary contracting out of public work. Work for next year.
· HB 186 Definitions of Police, passed. In current statute the definition of police officer includes the words “full time”. Though it seems a simple text change, the bill as passed now covers all employees employed in the state with police powers.
· This session we were able to get a regulation change. Once in acted health care workers will no longer be required to get repeat fingerprints, except at initial hire. Under Alaska Regulation 7 AAC 10.910(c), fingerprint based checks are good for a maximum of six years. This was a requirement put in place for all health care facilities in 2006; needless to say South Peninsula Hospital as well as other health care facilities was looking at a huge renewal rate. In February shortly after session began, Maria Soto sent us an email questioning this regulation. In Maria’s words, “Is there someone in Juneau that can do something about this ridiculous rule regarding fingerprint renewals. The last time I checked a person’s fingerprints don’t change”. Maria went on to say that “regarding background checks having to be redone, reporting of terminable illegal activities is done in real time.” After discussing the issue with the Commissioner of Health and Social Services, he said he would look into it and based on information he received agreed it needed to be changed. Maria THANK YOU for raising the issue.
In wrap up, there were huge issues facing this state addressed this session, Oil tax, FBX LNG, Pipeline, and a Capital budget with many projects to the betterment of all in our state. We were also able to get funding based on CPI-Anchorage in the pupil transportation budget and a huge success with the Railroad funding that was much needed for their Positive Train Control (PTC) program. Also in the Capital budget was another $25 million for the Mat-Su railroad extension. The total cost of this 32 mile railroad extension will link to the Mat-Su Port where they will be transporting bulk commodity exports. We look forward to continuing our work to protect worker rights, support good paying jobs, assuring overall health and safety, while protecting the environment for all those who come after us.
All politics is local!!!! We must continue to do our diligence to assure that the politicians elected to office at a local, state and federal level are friendly to working people and understand our issues. We will be working hard at the local and our members in Anchorage, to turn around the bad labor ordinance approved by the Anchorage Assembly and supported by Mayor Sullivan. Getting involved is important. Your vote does matter and assures the middle class American will grow—not become a state of the very rich and the very poor. It also assures peaceful settlements by reasonable people that your voice is heard. As Abraham Lincoln once said about voting, “Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets.”
In Congress on the House side a bill to prevent the NLRB from conducting its business may be heard soon. HR 1120 requires the board to cease all activity that requires a three member quorum and prohibit it from enforcing any action taken after January 4, 2012 (when President Obama made his appointments). This bill if passed shuts down the NLRB indefinitely and deprives both labor and management from having their rights adjudicated when a violation of the NLRA is alleged. Our International Representatives are working hard to defeat the measure. On April 9, 2013, President Obama nominated three new board members and has asked the Senate to confirm these appointments. If confirmed, the board would then have all positions filled, making this piece of House legislation moot.
Immigration Reform- The next big item, has been delayed at least a week, while Senators negotiate a deal to resolve additional issues. The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce (not often do you see those two together) have tentatively agreed to a new W-visa program that will place limits on the number of low-skilled workers allowed into the country. The Teamsters Union is encouraged by this tentative agreement, but we will wait to see actual legislative language before making any final determinations about support for the program.
Fast Track Trade Negotiating Authority-The International continues to lobby against. This legislation would permit an up or down vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Within the TPP, they are working to ensure that the dairy and labor chapters do not harm Teamster workers nor lead to more off-shoring of U.S. jobs. If it does not meet these conditions then the International will be opposing.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call me at (907) 227‑4572 or email at email@example.com. You can also go online to tract bills of interest at www.legis.state.ak.us.