Committee Calls for Statewide Teachers' Health Insurance Pact | Off Message

Committee Calls for Statewide Teachers' Health Insurance Pact

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Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: ALICIA FREESE
  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
A committee charged with resolving one of the most unexpected and contentious issues of the 2017 Vermont legislative session is calling for a statewide health insurance contract for school employees.

In a 6-3 vote, the Vermont Educational Health Benefits Commission recommended ditching district-by-district negotiations, though it gave no guarantee that such a change would save the state money.

Gov. Phil Scott began pushing the legislature for a statewide health insurance contract late last session, suggesting it would save $26 million. Democratic lawmakers balked, questioning Scott's numbers and arguing that they needed more time to consider the proposal. The standoff led Scott to veto the budget and tax bills, prolonging the session into June.

As part of a compromise deal, the legislature created a study committee, with members appointed by Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), Senate leadership, school unions, and the superintendents and school boards' associations.

Scott praised the committee's recommendation, saying in a statement: "Statewide negotiations will save taxpayers money, provide more equality to teachers regardless of their district and provide more predictable health insurance rates ... This is an important step forward in our work to make the education system more affordable — so we can invest more in our kids — and I’m hopeful this report will inspire legislative leaders to support this change."

The Vermont-National Education Association remains vehemently opposed, however.

"Here's the news flash of the day: A commission stacked with supporters of the governor's plan agreed with the governor's plan," communications director Darren Allen said. "This whole exercise was nothing more than politics."

Correction, December 20, 2017: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the committee appointment process.

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