Friday, May 3, 2013

Report to the RA

Gail Zeheralis provided this report at the 2013 ISTA Representative Assembly

From: Zeheralis, Gail
Subject: The General Assembly adjourned sine die.

Tonight ended the 2013 general assembly. Members adjourned sine die at about 1:15 am.

The full measure of the “tale of the tape” will need to be written in the coming days, but your lobbying team needs to convey to you a couple of significant accomplishments today having to do with what did not pass—knowing full well that more information will follow on the many bills that did pass. You will need to know about the new laws just enacted concerning school funding, teacher performance awards, voucher expansion, charter schools, virtual schools, performance-qualified high school flexibility, common core, the A-F school grading system, REPA II statutes, 13th checks for retirees, and school safety. But, for tonight….

Sometimes the best laws are the ones that don’t pass.

Last Minute Budget Bill PERF/TRF Annuity Restrictions:

Thanks in large measure to your answering the call this morning to contact your legislators on a new issue that had popped up in the budget in the 11th hour relating to PERF/TRF pension benefits, we received word at about 6:30 pm that the language to limit PERF/TRF retirees’ annuity options was coming out of the budget bill. I cannot emphasize enough what a “team” effort this was.

It literally took the better part of the day—getting the word out first thing to our UDs and members, educating unsuspecting legislators (dozens of them), explaining the issue (which lends itself to some complexity) over and over again, urging their support and then their assistance to speak up in their respective caucuses, amassing some quick data to intelligently combat this new issue on the merits, continuing communications with you-- our members-- throughout the day to ensure that you were persistent, and engaging with outside partners (county workers (AIC), retired state employees (RIPEA), labor, superintendents) so that we were not alone.

Many legislators helped along the way—chief among them, Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville). Senator Becker grabbed onto this issue last night when ISTA shared it with her and worked closely with us throughout the day. She was tenacious and systematic. She was instrumental in galvanizing both Senators and House members and in acquiring some data that was helpful. Those who know Sen. Becker understand fully what I mean when I say there just was no “quit” in her.

Rep. Tom Dermody (R-LaPorte) was the first in the House to help marshal supporters and he was quickly followed by Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo). I hesitate to make a list because as the day wore on and more and more legislators became aware of the issue (remember the budget bill is 300+ pages and this was one issue), there was a snowball effect that cannot be denied and ISTA is grateful for all of the assistance. One Representative who is in the financial planning business, Rep. Martin Carbaugh (R-Fort Wayne) was uniquely helpful, too.

And it must be noted that both Democrat caucuses (House and Senate) were full-bore in support of our efforts throughout the day.

It helped that we had some good facts on our side and that this was a brand new issue, not vetted. But I must tell you that once a budget bill version is developed, it is EXTREMELY difficult to modify it on the last day. I can tell you that the lobbying effort on this was textbook and each and every one of you should be proud of the impact you had.

Here is a link to a news article written by a reporter from the Evansville Courier Press who interviewed ISTA on the background:

Dues/PAC deduction Prohibition Provision:

A threat to the organization unveiled itself not 2 weeks after the November 2012 election when it became public that the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce was going to push for a statewide ban on school employee Association dues and/or PAC deductions voluntarily requested by the school employee of his/her employer. Faced with supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, ISTA quickly organized its forces while the NEA assisted in providing a legislative crisis grant to help fund additional personnel, back home outreach events, and statehouse legislative events.

HB 1334 became the vehicle for the prohibition—first a dues prohibition and then a “contribution for political activities” prohibition. HB 1334 passed the House with this language in it, thereby keeping the issue alive for literally the rest of the session. It seemed as though every day there was a new rumor as to its resurrection and each rumor had to be tracked down and legislators had to be reminded that the entire effort is unfair, unwarranted, and punitive.

ISTA received final word from the Speaker just yesterday that the issue would not be resurrected this year.

While this is a positive accomplishment for our organization—and a testament to your persistence and communication skills and outreach—it does clearly demonstrate that the Association must devote an inordinate amount of time and resources into fighting this when there is an alternative available to us that gives us back our leverage. That alternative is what ISTA calls EASY PAY—our own tailor-made dues deduction system that would take this out of the hands of the general assembly completely….

I don’t mean to turn this into a commercial…but it is now after 2am and I am reflecting on how much better things would be if we could free ourselves from having to lobby this particular issue over and over again and be able to concentrate all of our efforts on the issues most important to you and public education.

‘Nuff said for today….again, from the bottom of our collective lobbying hearts, thank you for all that you do for children, our communities, and public education.

Gail Zeheralis
Roni Embry
John O’Neal
Brad Tracy