Brothers and Sisters,
The 2011 legislative session is nearly upon us and your lobbying team has been busy preparing for the coming battle. The elections last month did not go as well for us as we could have hoped and will impact our legislative efforts. Of our top 6 races only one went our way. All of these were Democrats who fell prey to the red tide that swept the nation. Fortunately, many of our Republican friends remain in office. Even so, the makeup of this legislature will be considerably more conservative which does not bode well for many of our issues. One issue in particular that we will need to watch is PERSI.
With the state of the economy and a tea-party influence in the statehouse our retirement system could face a challenge. We have been working within the PERC (Public Employees Retirement Coalition) group to proactively ward off any attacks. We had heard rumors of such attacks, but no definitive accounts of anything specific until yesterday. The Lewiston Tribune reported that House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts indicated changes to the system will “probably be work(ed) on”. He specifically mentioned changing from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. Other attacks could include a reduction to the COLA, an increase in our contribution rate, a decrease in the benefit, or an increase in the retirement age. Utah has recently changed their system from one that was similar to ours to a “hybrid” system that includes both the defined benefit and the defined contribution plan and limits the contribution amount from the state.
On a positive note, the PERSI board decided at their last meeting to forego the planned contribution increase slated to go into effect January 1. This would have increased employers’ contributions into the plan by 1%. Fortunately, the fund has recovered to the point that it is 87% funded and the amortization period is under 25 years. When the amortization period is over 25 years state law requires a contribution increase. Elimination of the planned contribution increase takes a little of the pressure off to make changes to the system, but it is clear we must remain vigilant on this issue.
Another issue we will again be working on this year is the EMS issue. There have been two fronts on this issue over the past year – agency and personnel licensure rule-making and legislation. As a member of the rule-writing committee, we helped guide the direction those rules went. In the end the final draft of rules were pretty good but included certain aspects we were not comfortable with. Along with a number of other organizations, we submitted our concerns during the comment period and those rules will not be adopted. Work on cleaning up those rules may resume next year depending on what happens legislatively this session.
Regarding EMS legislation, we provided input for the study commissioned by the legislature to explore EMS in Idaho. The Office of Performance Evaluation (a subdivision of Legislative Services) spent about 8 months gathering information about EMS in Idaho and comparing it to how EMS works around the country. From this they determined some of the best practices and developed a list of recommendations for the Idaho Legislature. They completed and submitted their report to the legislature on Nov 30. At face value the report makes recommendations that we can live with as compared with the legislative proposals we have fought against in the past.
There were two overarching conclusions of this study. One, someone must be in charge, and two, all stakeholders should be included in a meaningful way. This is a positive sign as our contention has always been that our local jurisdictions must have some say in how we run the service we provide. These two general conclusions generated 7 specific recommendations on how to get there. How these recommendations are formulated into legislation is really where it will be determined how this legislation affects the departments we serve. None of the recommendations are of concern at face value, but we will need to see the details as the legislation is crafted. These are the recommendations:
1) Designate local systems by county boundaries
2) Create a governance structure to oversee that system comprised of representation from all agencies in that system (paraphrased)
3) Increase the role of the Idaho EMS Bureau
4) Create local medical directorates
5) Consider reviewing the funding structure for local EMS systems
6) Require local systems to address funding in their comprehensive plan
7) Conduct a national Technical Assistance Team Reassessment
The Office of Performance Evaluation and the Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee are in charge of the legislation at this point. We are working with the Idaho Fire Chiefs Association and the Idaho State Fire Commissioners Association to ensure that as this legislative proposal develops our concerns are addressed. To read the report in its entirety go to http://legislature.idaho.gov/ope/publications/reports/r1004.html .
Proactively, there are two or three bills we will work on this year. The first is our perennial high priority – presumptive illness legislation. We spent the summer working on a new bill with better language and presented that proposal to the Work Comp Advisory Committee this fall. The Work Comp Advisory Committee is the first stop for any legislation involving workers compensation and usually needs this group’s blessing to effectively run a piece of legislation. With the help of one of the doctors with the IAFF, we were able to very effectively deliver our message. The committee decided to create a sub-committee tasked with reviewing the draft legislation and making a recommendation to the larger committee. We met with the sub-committee last week and addressed many of the concerns of those on the sub-committee. The meeting did not go as well as we had hoped as there were a number of concerns that the group brought up that we may not be able to compromise on. We meet with this group again in mid-January to present more supporting material. At this time the sub-committee will make its recommendation to the main committee.
In researching our presumptive bill we discovered that the current medical examination requirement mandated by state law for new hires is based on the 1997 version of NFPA 1582. We’ve spoken to the Fire Chiefs about updating this to reflect any changes that have occurred to this standard in the past 14 years. We would look to amend the language to read “the current version of NFPA 1582” so as to capture any subsequent changes. As simple as this sounds it may be a difficult bill to get passed.
The other bill we may pursue is a bill that would require businesses to post a placard on their building if it has a truss roof or floor. This is modeled after laws passed in four other states and numerous municipalities. The goal is to provide our members with a heads up when they respond to a fire in a building that has a truss floor or roof. We all know the dangers of truss construction under fire conditions, but it’s difficult to always tell whether a building has truss in it or not when we arrive on scene. If passed, this legislation would apply only to commercial occupancies and would be enforced at the discretion of the local fire department. We have a sponsor for the bill and we’ve pitched it to the Chamber of Commerce and several other legislators. The response I’ve gotten back has been luke-warm. This too could be a tough sell.
Please contact me with any questions or concerns. Thank you.
Professional Firefighters of Idaho
Executive Vice President