The South Dakota State Employees Organization hosted District 24 legislators Sen. Jeff Monroe, Rep. Mary Duvall and Rep. Tim Rounds on Tuesday night in a forum focused on the suggestions, questions and concerns of state employees.
“The forum’s intent is to allow for a dialogue between the legislators and the constituents,” said Eric Ollila, executive director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization. “What I’ve seen in my time as executive director of the SDSEO is that when I get state employees and legislators together … they suddenly understand each other and the needs, desires and limitations of what they want.”
Topics discussed during the forum ranged from the state health plan to state employee reduced tuition.
When asked about support for the state employee salary package in the Legislature, Rounds said there was no debate as to whether or not employees should be given a 3.5 percent raise. He said that while state employees are still behind in pay, the Legislature didn’t “balance the budget on the back of state employees” as some have argued it did in the past.
Duvall added that Gov. Dennis Daugaard set the stage this past session with his budget proposal, asking for a 3 percent raise right away. Monroe said the Senate’s first priority was funding education and state employees.
Rounds noted that the biggest issue he’s heard about from state employees is concerning health benefits – specifically the wellness plan, which includes follow-up calls and emails.
Monroe said he’s heard back from state employees not about the details of the health plan, but about the structure of it. He added that, in his opinion, “the system is structurally broken.”
Ollila said another aspect of the state health plan – the flex plan – may not be an issue in Pierre, where dentists are taking that insurance, but is an issue in Rapid City, Brookings and Mitchell.
“We’re looking for legislators to be more aware of the components of the state health plan as well as the flex plan, just to make sure that state employees are actually able to use those services so that they can be healthy,” Ollila said.
Future forums will take place again in Pierre as well as elsewhere across the state. Ollila said connecting with district legislators is critical for state employees.
“It seems like (state employees) are typically weary of interacting with legislators politically, and that’s something we want to break down,” he said. “Rules and regulations are made legislatively and policy-wise in the administration, so it’s important for state employees to feel like they can interact in that process, because they can.”