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Michigan Senate Votes To Limit Lawmaker Benefits

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HEALTH CARE MONEY-DR.

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LANSING (AP) – Michigan lawmakers continued votes Wednesday to potentially eliminate retiree health care coverage for future and some current members of the state Legislature.

The Senate by a 37-1 vote approved a bill that would eliminate the coverage for lawmakers who have not served at least six years as a lawmaker before Jan. 1, 2013. Many current lawmakers, including most state senators, would remain eligible for future coverage under that plan.

The Senate plan is different than a version passed by the state House earlier this year. The House version would limit the benefits to those who became qualified participants in the system before Jan. 1, 2007. The vast majority of current lawmakers would not become eligible for the benefits under that plan.

The House and Senate must agree on a proposal before it could be sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger, said the House could vote on the Senate plan as early as Thursday.

“While our original version was broader and would have ended benefits for more lawmakers, the important thing is that we are finally addressing an issue that has been ignored for too long,” Adler said.

Current law allows ex-lawmakers who served at least six years in the Legislature to get health coverage once they turn 55, mostly at taxpayer expense. The benefit has come under fire in recent years because many employees in both the public and private sectors have dealt with reductions in health care coverage while lawmakers have kept their coverage even in retirement. It cost about $5 million to provide health and dental benefits to 348 retired lawmakers and their dependents in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The timeframe of the Senate version would preserve the future benefits for lawmakers who already have qualified for them or will by the end of this legislative session.

“We’re not going to go retroactively and take things away from people that they’ve earned and was part of the package that they signed up for,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said.

Democratic Sen. Coleman Young II of Detroit, who would be covered by the benefits, said he voted against the plan because it picked winners and losers.

“If you’re going to wipe out retirement health care for legislators, wipe it out for everybody across the board,” he said.

The change in retiree health benefits would come on top of a 10 percent pay cut that took effect for state lawmakers this year.

In recent years, both the House and Senate have passed bills that would scale back retirement health coverage or make lawmakers work longer to get it. But neither chamber has passed the same version, so state law hasn’t changed and the old system remains in place.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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