Senate OKs bills on road to budget

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OLYMPIA -- The state Senate passed two measures Saturday that Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats insisted on moving before taking up the contentious supplemental budget.

The special session ends Tuesday. If the supplemental budget is not passed by then, a new special session will be necessary.

Both bills are at odds with rival proposals from Democrats in the House. Their passage in that chamber, where they are now headed, is not certain.

The first measure would alter health insurance benefits for K-12 school employees. Senate Bill 5940, passed on a 29-17 vote,

would require school districts to give the state’s Insurance Commissioner financial and enrollment information and would cap employee premiums for full family coverage at three times the cost of premiums for individuals.

It would require all those covered to pay part of their premiums, and make districts offer employees the option of a high-deductible plan with a health savings account.

Districts that fail to comply would have their employees placed in the existing health insurance program for state workers.

The measure effectively replaces a controversial proposal to consolidate school employee health insurance into a program administered by the state’s Health Care Authority.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said a version of the bill that would have threatened to shift school support staff -- but not teachers -- from district plans to one run by the state would have stood a better chance of passing in the House.

“The bill will not pass the House in its current form,” Murray predicted.

The second bill passed by the Senate would require the state’s two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period. Senate Bill 6636 was approved on a 30-16 vote.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said the measure would force lawmakers to be more responsible in their budgeting.

A similar proposal by House Democrats would allow more flexibility in two-year budgeting while still taking into account four-year forecasts.

A vote on a third bill that would have eliminated early retirement options for some state employees was deferred until Monday, presumably when three Senators absent on Saturday -- two Republicans and conservative Democrat Rodney Tom of Medina -- will be back in Olympia.

Both the House and Senate are adjourned until Monday.