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Capital Focus

Appeal Capitol Bureau

The Public Employee Benefits Program board meets today to fine tune the budget reductions they approved a month ago.

The board agreed Nov. 6 to changes which raise employee premiums and raise deductibles. That cuts $50.8 million from the benefits budget over the biennium, holding total costs to $913.8 million.

They took half the total cuts by making plan changes which impact those actually using the plan’s services and half from cost shifts ” primarily higher premiums for employees, retirees and dependents, which affect all members.

The focus of today’s meeting is how to split the premium increases between employees and their dependents.

Member Jacque Ewing-Taylor urged the panel in November to look at adjusting the premium changes to give dependents a better deal.

She said the initial proposal gave individual workers a reduction of just 1 percent in their state subsidy while retirees would get a 3 percent cut and seniors and younger, lower paid workers would be even harder hit.

“Personally, I would be willing to pay more on my monthly premium so others had to pay less,” she said in asking for today’s meeting.

That, however, would come at the expense of those active employees in state service. And employee benefits director Leslie Johnstone said some board members feel the employees should be protected rather than the dependents.

She pointed out that, whatever the board decides today, the actual adjustments it makes to premiums won’t be known precisely until March.

“We’re dealing with gross dollars,” she said. “It’s not going to mean much to anybody until we work up the rates to see.”

As for retirees, Johnstone said, “the plan is we impact the plan and premiums in the same proportion to what we’re doing to the active employees.

“We’re not targeting them for any special reduction.”

She told the board last month as long as the board doesn’t change the total budget reduction from shifting premiums to the members, nothing has to be set in stone until late February.

She said there is no guarantee the total reductions mandated by the governor’s office aren’t set in stone either.

“We have to wait and see if there are any changes to the target as well,” she said. “That may not be an insignificant issue.”

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Public Employee Benefits Program conference room in the Bryan Building.

– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Congressman Dean Heller, R-Nev., have called for creation of an emergency supply dump at Hawthorne in case of disaster on the eastern slope of the Sierra.

“Northern Nevada has experienced floods, earthquakes, and wildfires over the past two years that have created hardships for our citizens,” said Heller. “Having needed supplies to respond to emergency situations is critical to quickly assist those in need.”

“Pre-positioning emergency supplies on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada needs to be a priority, as evidenced by recent events across Northern Nevada,” said Ensign. “Hawthorne Army Depot is centrally located and has capacity.”

He said supplies at Hawthorne would be more easily accessed than storage areas in Northern California.

“A FEMA/Hawthorne Army Depot partnership would not only mean a more seamless response to disasters that threaten our state, but it could mean the difference between life and death in Northern Nevada,” Reid said.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall has filled three key management positions within her office: Cecilia Colling as chief of staff, Mark Winebarger as chief deputy treasurer and Steve George as senior deputy treasurer.

Colling assumed the chief of staff position Dec. 1. She was deputy administrator of the rehabilitation division of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. She will oversee personnel, budget, and long term planning within the Treasurer’s Office and supervise the Millennium Scholarship, Nevada Prepaid Tuition, and Unclaimed Property divisions.

Winebarger began his career in state government with the controller’s office in 1994, eventually ascending to the position of chief deputy controller. He will be responsible for oversight of the Cash Management, Investments, and Debt Management divisions, and will serve as the secretary for the Board of Finance.

George, who was most recently public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services and prior to that former Gov. Kenny Guinn’s director of communications, will serve as the legislative liaison, associate personnel officer, and oversee all outreach and communication efforts within the office

“I am excited to have a group of highly experienced and professional individuals join the treasurer’s dffice,” Marshall said. “Having our management team in place before the 2009 legislative session begins will allow us to more effectively prepare for what will surely be a tough road ahead for the state.”

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Selection is taking applications to fill two vacancies at the Eighth Judicial District Family Court, which resulted when two judges were elected in November to other positions.

Chief Justice William Maupin said Family Court Judge Stefany Miley was elected to a civil/criminal judgeship, replacing Judge Elizabeth Halverson and Family Court Judge Sandra Pomrenze was elected to the newly created Department P at Family Court and will be vacating her Department E seat.

This will be the second time the interview and deliberation process for judicial selection has been open to the public. The Commission voted a year ago to change its rules and open the traditionally confidential processes.

Applications are available on the Supreme Court Web site at http://www.nvsupremecourt.us/ccp/judSelection/ for attorneys who wish to apply for the vacancies at the Family Court in Clark County.

The deadline for submission of applications is 5 p.m. Dec. 19.

The Commission will interview candidates Feb. 9 and 10. Following the interviews, the commission will submit the names of three nominees for each vacancy to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who will appoint the replacements from the lists.

No time limit exists for the governor to make his appointments, however, if appointments are not made within 30 days following submission of the candidates, the governor can’t make other appointments to public office until the judges are picked.

For further information, contact commission staff member Janice Frayo at the Administrative Office of the Courts in Carson City at 684-1706.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services has named Ben Kieckhefer its new public information officer.

Kieckhefer is the former press secretary to Gov. Jim Gibbons who was recently replaced by Dan Burns.

Director Mike Willden said bringing in some one with Kieckhefer’s background is an invaluable addition to his department.

“He has a strong knowledge of state government, the Legislative process and has good working relationships with reporters throughout the state,” said Willden.

He takes over from Steve George, who left the position to take the job of senior deputy treasurer.

“This department touches nearly every person living in Nevada in one way or another, and I’m excited by the opportunity,” said Kieckhefer.

Health Care Financing and Policy

– Elimination of the HIFA Waiver will save $205 million a year.

HIFA, adopted by Nevada in 2005, provided a significant expansion of health care coverage for low-income Nevadans. It expanded coverage for pregnant women from 134 percent of the federal poverty level to 185 percent.

It subsidized premiums for employer sponsored insurance up to $100 per person per month for workers and spouses in companies with 50 or fewer employees and provided catastrophic event coverage to indigents with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

State funds in the program were matched by federal money.

The Legislative Commission has requested that state employees who will be engaging in lobbying activities on behalf of the agencies which employ them get identification badges before the start of the 2009 Legislature.

Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said there is no fee for the identification badges and, unlike professional lobbyists, they don’t have to file any reports. He said the purpose is to identify those agencies representing agencies when they appear before the Legislature.

He said badges can be obtained at the Legislative Police office in Room 1144. They are open from 8-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Professional paid lobbyists and unpaid citizen lobbyists who represent non-profit groups must register and get badges as well. But those lobbyists must file periodic reports of their activities and expenditures.

Individuals wishing to testify on issues they are concerned about or meet with lawmakers are not required to register or wear an identification badge.

Dec. 3, 9 a.m., PEBP Conference Room, Bryan Building. PEBP Board discussion of premium changes between active employees, retirees and dependents.

Dec. 3, 9 a.m., Gaming Control Board offices, College Parkway. Regular meeting of the Gaming Control Board.

Dec. 3, 10 a.m., 500 E. Third St, Carson City. Labor Commission meets to finalize unemployment insurance rates for the coming year.

Dec. 5, 1:30 p.m., State Department of Education offices, Fifth St. Carson City. State Board of Education.

Dec. 6, State Board of Education meeting continues.

Dec. 8, Legislature. Tentative start of special legislative session to fix the $330 million budget shortfall remaining this fiscal year. Lawmakers anticipate a two-day session. Gov. Jim Gibbons has not yet issued the proclamation calling the special session.

Dec. 9, 10 a.m., Capitol Annex. Board of Examiners meets.