And another thing ... County workers should pay; refine drug bill

And another thing ... County workers should pay; refine drug bill

April 29th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

County employees contribution reasonable

Hamilton County may soon ask its employees to do what the majority of Chattanoogans have been doing for years -- help fund their own retirement -- and, if it happens, it won't be a moment too soon.

Presently, county employees don't pay anything -- zero, zip, nada -- toward their retirement, but beginning July 1 counties will have the option to bring their employees under the state's new hybrid retirement package, where employees will pick up part of the tab.

In fiscal 2013, local taxpayers contributed $14.3 million to the retirement funds of working county employees, and retired county workers received $89 million in benefit payments that had been promised to them, according to Tennessee Department of Treasury records.

The new plan is not being considered for existing employees, according to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, but the county is examining the policy for new hires.

The actual savings will depend on what option the county selects, but taxpayers would move from currently contributing 14.08 percent of each worker's pay toward retirement to about 9 percent. County employees would be asked to contribute about 7 percent of their pay toward their retirement.

For the majority of Chattanooga workers, who fund their retirements through the likes of 401(k) plans or on their own with some combination of savings and Social Security, having an employer chip in more than half of their yearly retirement contribution would be a dream.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, an agreement was reached to have city of Chattanooga fire and police personnel pay 37 percent more in contributions toward retirement, and the Erlanger Health System moved all its employees into a retirement savings plan similar to a 401(k).

This isn't be-mean-to-employees year; it's just a reality. In the private sector, defined benefit plans began disappearing more than 30 years ago because the cost of such plans for an increasing and aging retired work force was just too expensive to maintain if the company was to keep operating.

New state workers and teachers will come under the new system upon hiring.

If Coppinger wants to be forward thinking, he'll go ahead and put Hamilton County under the new system.

If he doesn't, chances are he or some near-future county mayor will have to do just that in order to make ends meet.

Be careful what you ask for

In understandably wanting drug-using women to be criminally charged if the drug use harms their babies, Tennessee lawmakers in passing a new law may have opened a Pandora's box of trouble they may never get closed.

The stories of drug-dependent babies are emotionally wrenching, the ones who are inconsolable because they can't comfort themselves, the ones who shake, the ones who have muscle stiffness or seizures.

The babies are also costly for the state, with the average cost of a baby receiving TennCare benefits born with neonatal abstinence syndrome pegged at $40,931 in 2010, according to state figures.

But the law, which Gov. Bill Haslam must either sign or veto by today and which is the first of its kind in the country, could have the effect of keeping women from receiving any care for themselves or their baby (because they would fear being turned in), forcing them to leave the state, or, worse, by enticing them to abort their baby.

Certainly the legislation, which would prosecute the woman for an "assault offensive" if the child is born addicted or charge her with murder if the baby dies because of her drug use, attempts to protect innocent children.

But it doesn't punish drug-addicted fathers, is vague on what kind of actions can be prosecuted, doesn't consider that most rural areas don't have treatment centers and doesn't consider that some withdrawing mothers must have addiction therapy drugs. It does, however, exempt mothers who are "actively enrolled in an addiction recovery program before the child is born, remained in the program after delivery, and successfully completed the program."

If nothing else, a refining of the bill is necessary. Perhaps, it would just leave in the language about the homicide charge if the drug-addicted baby dies. Perhaps it would eliminate the vagueness about what can be actionable.

Either way, a Haslam veto starts that ball rolling.