Leadership: Free Health Care for Legislators is a Constitutional Right
According to Katherine Gregg’s reports in the ProJo, the leadership in the General Assembly believes that free health care for RI legislators is a Constitutional Right
House Speaker Murphy and Senate President Montalbano say they have no intention of making premium co-pays mandatory.
Asked last week why lawmakers alone should be spared, Murphy issued this statement: “In 1994, the voters approved an amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution that provided health insurance benefits for Representatives and Senators. I am a firm believer that the members of the Legislature are entitled to these fully paid health benefits as established by the voters.”
The constitutional provision he cited (Article VI, Section 3) says: “Senators and Representatives shall receive the same health insurance benefits as full-time state employees.” Those other employees are required to contribute toward the premiums for their benefits.
Why not legislators too?
House spokesman Larry Berman elaborated on Murphy’s thinking: “At the time of the vote in 1994 when this was changed, there was no co-share and there is no provision in the Constitution that discusses a co-share.”
Montalbano agrees with “the interpretation of the Constitution that says: if you want to change the law as to our compensation, which includes health benefits, you have to change the Constitution.”
Asked what he thinks premium-free health care for lawmakers does to the General Assembly’s image in a climate in which most workers who have health benefits pay for a portion of them, Montalbano said: “I think it’s different because we are elected to the office, in positions that pay what they pay …. I mean our families give up a lot for the time that we spend here.
“And so, if one of the benefits is that they get health care coverage as part of that compensation, I am comfortable with that. … And I don’t think the image is that we are over-paid at all. … I think the image is that we work hard and we spend a lot of hours and that if we were here for the pay, most of us wouldn’t be here.”
Then why–if we are to buy into this nobless oblige of yours–are you fighting so hard to keep this perk, Senator? But back to the Constitutional issue. Montalbano and Murphy are clearly caught in one here. The wording is clear and Berman’s “originalist” argument doesn’t hold water.
Why not try something else and take the Constitutional language for what it clearly states: “Senators and Representatives shall receive the same health insurance benefits as full-time state employees.” If the average full-time state employee is co-paying, then you guys have to do the same. It seems pretty clear that the wording was intended to allow for a changing compensation package. The RI government has asked state workers to change with the times, and our legislators should do the same. Besides, since when did this group start arguing from original intent?