Legislator wants to ax benefits for part-timers

Rep. Laura Bradford is calling on the state to end its practice of offering benefits to part-time workers.

The Collbran Republican said the practice isn’t done in the private sector and that the state may be wasting taxpayers’ money by offering it.

But that means Bradford will have to give up the very benefits she’s talking about.

As a citizen-Legislature, the 100 members of the Colorado General Assembly are by definition part-time workers. Yet 64 of them, including Bradford, receive the same benefits offered to full-time workers.

Those legislators are among the nearly 2,900 part-time state workers out of a labor force of about 38,000 who have the option of being enrolled in the state’s medical and dental plans.

“It’s time to have a policy that everyone understands when they’re hired ... when you cross over to 75 to 80 percent of a (full-time worker), you get benefits,” she said. “There’s no policy that states that.”

Although the workers contribute to their plans depending on several factors, including whether they include their children and spouses, the state subsidized it with an employer contribution.

Overall, the state pays more than $191 million for medical and dental coverage. State employees who work 30 hours a week or fewer account for about $10 million of that.

While Bradford said the state could save money by trimming the benefits or cutting them out altogether, she’s less sure legislators should be included. She said lawmakers are paid a part-time wage but often do a full-time job. As a result, it’s hard to find people who want to run for office, and Colorado should offer added incentives to get them to do so.

“I’m willing to discuss it with other legislators and get feedback from citizens,” she said. “Every year, it gets a little more difficult to find people to run for public office. I’m not saying that as part-time employees we deserve to have full-time benefits, but as an attraction to run for the job in the first place ... we have a lot of seats with no contestants.”

State legislators earn a $30,000 annual salary and draw per diem when they are in session: $45 a day for Denver-area lawmakers and $150 a day for rural members. Lawmakers also earn a $99 per diem if they are conducting government business when the Legislature is not in session.

Bradford isn’t the only local lawmaker who would have to give up benefits. Rep. Steve King and Sen. Josh Penry, both Grand Junction Republicans, also receive the benefits.

The only Western Slope legislators who have opted not to receive them are Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus. Rep. Kathleen Curry, an unaffiliated legislator from Gunnison, receives dental coverage from the state but not medical.

Tipton said he rejected the benefits because he doesn’t believe lawmakers should seek to get elected based on what they can get out of it.

“When I ran for the state Legislature, I didn’t look into what’s in it for me,” he said. “But very frankly, I was very surprised at some of the offerings. We are a part-time Legislature.”

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver and a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said it’s not as simple as denying the benefit to part-time workers.

He said the more people who are in the state’s plan, the less the overall cost is to everyone. Still, he said the JBC plans to examine the issue this fall, when it meets again to work on next year’s budget.

All 100 state lawmakers also receive the state’s $50,000 life insurance benefit, and each is allowed to enroll in the Public Employees Retirement Association pension plan.

Additionally, they get free parking in downtown Denver, the use of a laptop computer, a part-time legislative aid and free specialty license plates identifying which Senate or House district they represent. Those plates are limited to legislators, but similar specialty plates cost everyone else $50 on top of their normal registration fees.

Like all part-time state workers, legislators have the option of enrolling in the state’s self-insurance plan.

Ten Democrats and 10 Republicans don’t take the benefits at all. Fifteen others — eight Democrats, six Republicans and one unaffiliated — receive medical or dental coverage, but not both.

Even though benefits are considered part of government employees’ compensation package, The Daily Sentinel was forced to file a Colorado Open Records Act request earlier this month to get that information. The request was to the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration. It denied the request on the grounds it would open the lawmakers’ personnel records to public inspection, citing a state law that says benefits are a matter of public record.

Regardless of that denial, the Legislative Council, the nonpartisan staffing agency of the Legislature, released the information.


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