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Saturday, January 22, 2000


Legislature 2000

Cuts sought in health benefits

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press


Having one of the nation's most generous public employee medical plans has put the state on course for a $1 billion annual price tag by 2013, according to state House Democrats.

To keep the costs of the plan from quadrupling in the next 13 years, the majority Democrats are proposing across-the-board cuts in benefits for more than 77,000 current and retired state and county employees and a restructuring of the health plan.

The ax would fall on coverage for vision and dental care, group life insurance and the $45 monthly reimbursements to retirees' spouses for enrolling in secondary federal Medicare coverage.

Employees hired after June 30, 1996, who retire before the age of 65 would be required to pay a certain percentage of their health care premium until they reach 65, depending on how long they worked.

But the initiatives, barely accepted as part of the Democratic majority's legislative package, face an uncertain future in the House and an even more uncertain future should they reach the Senate, leaders acknowledged.

Randy Perreira, deputy executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, described the proposed bills as "draconian."

While nothing in Hawaii's constitution or laws prevents the state from cutting health plan benefits, "there is an implied contract when you have agreed to work for the government for 'X' number of years that you will be eligible for the same coverage," he said.

The HGEA, which represents the majority of state and county employees, will propose an employer-union health trust fund to oversee all public employee health plans and to reduce costs by consolidating the administration, Perreira said.



House high on reforms

The doors to the 2000 state Legislature opened this week with the swearing-in of appointed freshman state Rep. Willie Espero (D, Ewa Beach) and with House lawmakers pushing a six-letter word: reform.

The House Democrats cited reforms in civil service, collective bargaining, regulatory and education as the mainstay for their package of bills. As House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo) put it, he wants to "steer a steady course" in this supplemental budget year.

"While the Council on Revenues has been more optimistic than they have been in the past in their last projection, I think the House is still being very cautious," Takamine said. "We want to be prudent. Certainly, the bottom line for all of this is fiscal responsibility."

Already sent to various House committees are bills dealing with fireworks, charter schools, elections, domestic violence and firearms, as well as many other subjects. It will be up to the committee leaders to decide which bills get heard.

Sen. President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) wants senators to focus on limited issues, such as education, fireworks and the reappointment of legislative auditor Marian Higa.

State of the State:

Gov. Ben Cayetano gears up for his State of the State speech at 10 a.m. Monday in the House chambers. He will announce his plans to reform civil service, which the House leadership has pledged to support, as well as the rest of his vision for the state's future.

Inmate abuse:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a briefing at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Capitol Room 229 to receive an update by the Department of Public Safety on progress reports and investigations into inmate abuse.

Health talks:

House and Senate Health committees will hold an informational hearing at noon Monday in Capitol Room 329 to discuss the budget of the Department of Human Services.

Thinking small:

State House Republicans believe smaller classes, smaller schools and smaller school districts will boost Hawaii's education system, which is their top priority for the 2000 Legislature.

The 13-member House minority yesterday called for "multiplex" schools, or schools-within-schools. They also proposed offering principals greater pay and benefits for agreeing to work on a limited-term, performance-driven contract.

"Principals are key to school success," said state Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki). "They are the CEOs of their schools, and our students and teachers depend on performance-driven leadership."

Rep. David Pendleton (R, Kailua) wants to expand laws dealing with charter schools to give a greater choice to parents and students. Currently, only the Department of Education is allowed to award charters.

"This bill would expand that authority to the university, the counties, even private schools like Kamehameha," Pendleton said.

Pat Omandam, Star-Bulletin

Get involved

You can track bills, hearings and other Legislature action via:

Bullet The Legislative Reference Bureau's public access room, state Capitol, room 401. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Phone: 587-0478; fax, 587-0793; TTY, 538-9670.

Neighbor islanders, call toll-free and enter ext. 70478 after the number:

Big Island, 974-4000; Maui,

984-2400; Kauai, 274-3141;

Molokai and Lanai, 468-4644.

Bullet The state's daily Internet listing of hearings:

Bullet The Legislature's automated bill report service: 586-7000.

Bullet The state's general Web page:

Bullet Our Web site:

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Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

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