Rep. Elliott Naishtat is laying out his bill, HB 861, which provides for competitive insurance benefits for UT and TAMU employees. He is hitting on key point - that the university systems need to offer competitive benefits to recruit and retain faculty and staff. The lack of competitive benefits adds financial stress to faculty and staff members and to their respective programs. The bill would provide insurance benefits to "other qualified individuals" as determined by the UT and TAMU systems, respectively.
Chairman John Smithee expressed his problems with the bill to Rep. Naishtat, stating he had issues with people entering into the state insurance system and how would the terms of eligibility be defined. Smithee expressed concern that people with chronic illnesses might solicit faculty and staff members to gain access to an insurance plan and what that might cost the state.
Rep. Smithee's concern overlooks the fact that the university systems do not pay the full premiums of dependents - the employee typically pays for dependent coverage.
Naishtat responded that multiple university systems across the country have already addressed this issue with specific definitions and requirements. Smithee was concerned about handing the universities the keys to the treasury. Again, dependent premiums are not fully paid by the employer under this bill. The university systems don't have to pay for the health insurance if they don't want to. They just make the coverage available.
Lynn Milburn, with UT Austin and testifying individually, outlined the loss of funds related to staff retention issues and not providing equal benefits. It cost the university system $.5 million to $1 million to set up a lab for health sciences professor/research, which is lost if they do not stay. UT Austin is losing out to both equally-prestigious and less-prestigious institutions due to lack of access to competitive benefits.
Karen Landolt, from the UT McCombs School of Business and testifying as an individual, talked about the difficulty she has as a business school recruiter in selling UT. She told about one faculty candidate who was considering UT and Duke. The candidate wanted to come to UT Austin, but decided to go to Duke because they provided partnership benefits and UT Austin did not. Now, each time she sees this person's work published in major business media, she laments the school's inability to recruit top talent. Additionally, UT's hands are tied when they are trying to improve the ranking of the McCombs School, after it dropped out of the top 20 this year.
Lisa Moore, Associate Professor of English and of Women and Gender Studies, testifed as an individual about the loss of faculty members due to lack of insurance benefits. She read a letter from Dr. Vargas, who resigned from UT Austin because the school could not provide benefits to her partner. She stated that as a daughter of Texas-Mexican-American parents, she was discriminated against. She was "heartbroken to give up her dreams" of working at UT Austin.
Randall Terrell, Political Director of Equality Texas, testified that UT and TAMU are statutorily required to be competitive with peer institutions and private industries in the provision of health benefits. He addressed the fiscal issues stating that the bill would let the systems offer insurance benefits, but would not mandate paying for them.
Julian Carter, Associate Vice-President of Human Resources at UT Austin testified that there is ongoing impact on faculty and staff recruitement. He stated that the issue is "fast becoming a competitive issue" and that the provision of benefits is "becoming a mainstay of benefit design". He also addressed the inequities between married and unmarried couples in that, on average, married faculty/staff receive $6,000 more in benefits than unmarried faculty/staff.
Dr. Gregory Vincent, Vice-President of Diversity and Community Engagement and Law Professor at UT Austin, testifed that they cleary see a loss in recruiting faculty and staff. Also, they also face problems with recruiting the best graduate students to the respective programs. In response to a question by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Dr. Vincent agreed that the quality of faculty and graduate students is declining without the ability to compete with other peer institutions. Since 2005, he estimates they have lost 20 faculty members and score more staff due to the lack of competitive benefits. In response to a question by Rep. Craig Eiland, Dr. Vincent affirmed that the students, staff, and faculty are in support of the provision of competitive benefits.
Rep. Naishtat closed out his bill by affirming the issue of the UT and Texas A&M systems being competitive in the job market for qualified faculty and staff.
Posted by Chuck Smith, Deputy Director and Paul Scott, Executive Director