RALEIGH — State House Republican leaders and state employee groups are negotiating a compromise that could spare workers from having to pay health insurance premiums.
Lacking the votes to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto from last week, as the Senate did Thursday, the House on Tuesday fashioned a compromise bill that instructs the state treasurer to find savings to keep premiums as low as possible. That bill sped through two committee meetings and tentatively passed along mostly party lines in a 61 to 54 House floor vote.
But the proposal could look different as early as today, when the full House is scheduled to take its final vote on it.
Rep. Jerry Dockham, a Davidson County Republican who is the primary sponsor of the bill, told legislators that it was still a work in progress that could result in a no-premium option for active and retired employees.
Alternatives are being hashed out by House Speaker Thom Tillis in talks with employee groups. Tillis expressed frustration with the governor for vetoing the bill without an alternative.
"I'm very disappointed in the governor's lack of leadership on this issue," he said.
Tillis said the gap between the legislature's proposal and the governor's needed to be addressed. "Tell us what you want," he said of the governor. "This is a waste of legislative time."
He said it would cost roughly $14 million if employees don't pick up the cost of premiums. "That has to come from somewhere," Tillis said.
The bill the governor vetoed was an attempt to close a projected $515 million shortfall. It would have required employees to pay premiums, and instituted higher co-pays and deductibles.
Perdue, in her veto message, said the bill would, in effect, be a pay cut for teachers, who haven't had an increase in three years.
On Tuesday, Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said the governor is waiting to see what kind of proposal the negotiations produce. "She is glad to see what looks to be positive movement, though," said Pearson by email.
At the morning news conference, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he didn't have any objection to the bill that worked its way to the floor vote Tuesday.
Democratic House members were skeptical of the bill. Minority leader Rep. Joe Hackney urged Democrats to vote against it, since the negotiations were still under way.
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