Smoking surcharge for TN state workers delayed

State employees, teachers have until 2011 to quit habit
NASHVILLE – The House has voted to postpone for a year a planned $50-per-month health insurance surcharge for state employees and teachers who smoke.

The move came in a House floor amendment to SB205, adopted at the urging of Rep. John Litz, D-Morristown.

“I just felt this was the wrong time and the wrong effort to be putting this on state employees,” said Litz.

He said that Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration had agreed to the delay, though Bredesen indicated later that he did so somewhat reluctantly.

“I thought it was a good thing to do,” said Bredesen, adding that $50 per month covers only about one-third the cost of having smokers on the state health insurance plan.

At the same time, the governor said he viewed the delay as a “compromise” as compared to banning such a surcharge and said he’s “satisfied with that.”

The $50 monthly surcharge was scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2010. That will be delayed until Jan. 1, 2011, under the amended bill.

Beside the surcharge, the planned program included offering free anti-smoking aids at state expense to employees trying to quit. That part of the program also will be delayed, Litz said, though the state still has some help available to those trying to stop smoking under prior plans.

The underlying bill (SB205) deals with the State Insurance Committee resolving disputes over what should be covered by insurance. It had passed the Senate but now returns for concurrence with the House amendment on delaying the surcharge.

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State Comptroller Justin Wilson has called on the Bredesen administration to freeze further implementation of state government’s new $135 million computerized payroll and accounting system, known as Project Edison.

But Bredesen said Thursday he has no intention of slowing implementation and that if Wilson wants that done, “he should run for governor.”

Wilson told the Fiscal Review Committee that a survey of state employees and management found widespread dissatisfaction with Project Edison and said “it’s not right for our state employees to have their payroll and benefits entrusted to a system that’s not functioning properly.”

Bredesen said the system has problems, but “they are pretty typical of trying to make changes of this magnitude. I can’t imagine that it makes sense to stop things dead in the water right now.”

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After lengthy debate, the House on Thursday approved a bill that makes it a crime for adults to knowingly allow youths 18 through 20 to drink alcoholic beverages.

Sponsor Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said there is an oversight in current law that covers youths only through age 17. The bill (HB250) now returns to the Senate, which passed it earlier, for concurrence on an amendment.

Much of the House debate centered on scenarios such as one posed by Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, who envisioned parents being prosecuted because they provided a beer or celebratory glass of champagne to a 20-year-old son returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Carr insisted such an occurrence was highly unlikely, and efforts to amend the bill to exempt such situations failed.

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