BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
Let’s talk about the frightening way that people talk past each other through this legislative process.
This week, committee meetings and floor sessions alike have been fraught with discussions in which legislators were unable to effectively communicate with one another. On bills addressing topics ranging from mopeds to gun rights, I’ve watched communication break down and representatives fail to understand the key message of the bill.
Worse, it’s happening to our teachers right now.
If you’ve been anywhere on social media or if you’ve been tuning in to streams of Senate and House floor sessions this week, you’ve heard the roar of the crowd beyond the chamber as teachers exercised their collective power to strike and demand better pay and benefits. Teachers and other public employees have been loud enough this week to garner national and international attention and have not gone unheard here at home.
But did legislators really hear what teachers were saying?
On Tuesday night, Governor Justice relented and announced a proposal for what would amount to a 5% raise for teachers and a 3% raise for other public workers. On Wednesday evening, after another day of school closure, the legislature passed a HB 4145, offering a 5% raise across the board.
But, does this bill actually address all of the key points that have teachers concerned?
It’s safe to say that had teachers not gone on strike, had they not used their right to public demonstration, had they not applied this kind of pressure to legislators, this proposal would not have been made and the 5% pay raise would not have been passed. The progress made on this issue is a direct result of the action taken by teachers and their supporters.
But, even as this pay raise bill moves forward, I’m still deeply troubled by the conversation that’s [not] taking place and there are two key reasons why:
- The first is that the pay raise does nothing to address the second of the two core issues that led teachers to strike in the first place. Teacher want and desperately need a pay raise, but they are also fighting against the unsustainably high premiums of the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA). Currently, a freeze is in place for PEIA premiums for the next fiscal year, but it’s not clear if the 5% raise would be enough to cover the difference once the freeze is lifted. This could put teachers and other public workers in a similar position to the one they were in at the beginning of this session.
- Second, while Wednesday was Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to pass through their house of origin, bills related to salaries and budget are exempt from this rule, meaning HB 4145 could still have been considered, even if the House had not chosen to suspend the rules and passed it Wednesday night. This makes me think that legislators felt it more important to “end the strike” than to spend the time necessary to come up with a more comprehensive, long term fix for PEIA.
While legislators took nearly an hour on the floor in advance of passing this bill to talk about their happiness at being able to give teachers a raise and to caution one another that PEIA is still broken, it’s unclear whether they will be able to address PEIA this session, now that Crossover Day has come and gone.
An Executive Order creating a task force addressing PEIA is on the books, but time will tell if it will be useful in accomplishing the systemic solution that is needed.
Our teachers and their communities don’t need part of a fix, and they certainly don’t need to be silenced before legislators adequately handle the second of their primary concerns. They need to be heard in their entirety, and they need a real solution, one which will ensure that they will not need to be back on strike next year, still under the strain of a broken system.
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