SB200, the PERA reform bill, has passed the State Senate on a party-line 19-16 vote, with Sen. Cheri Jahn (U) joining the majority Republicans in support.
It faces a tougher road in House, where the Democrats have a 10-seat majority, pending a Republican successor to evicted Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-R) in House District 34. But the bill has Democratic support, even among leadership. Majority Leader K.C. Becker (D) is one of the sponsors, and she’s been working with Sen. Jack Tate (R) since the beginning to get something written that can both pass and do more than just tweak things until the next crisis.
With a minority in the Senate, and the Republicans solidly behind the bill as amended, it was easy for Democrats to vote to oppose. They took no risk in doing so. What they could do was propose amendments that laid down markers for what the
unions party expects to see changed coming out of the House and headed into a presumed conference committee. I covered those in a previous post, but they amount to:
- Reducing the employee contribution increase
- Increasing the employer contribution
- Not increasing the retirement age
- Not expanding access to the Defined Contribution plan
- Increasing the COLA cap
- Eliminating the new oversight committee
Now is where the Senate Republicans and House Democrats who have been leading the effort will really be tested. The needle to thread is much narrower, with Republicans more likely to vote against a substantially weakened bill, but Democrats potentially demanding more change to vote for it.
The Senate Democrats, in particular Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, complained that they were willing to compromise but that the Republicans had rejected such efforts. In fact, the final bill represented serious compromise from the Republican desiderata going in.
Will Becker and her co-sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon (D) be able to corral enough House Democrats to avoid poison-pill amendments, and have Sens. Tate and Priola been clear and convincing about just what those red lines are? Should a weakened bill make it out of conference, will enough Senate Republicans vote against it to offset any pickup in Senate Democrats. Recall that in the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Jahn actually voted to support two amendments by Sen. Lois Court (D-Not Math) that ended up being proposed again on the floor.
We’re far from done. Let’s just hope they’re not still marking up amendments the first week in May.