Lawmakers ok new vision plan

The Legislature has passed a bill that would increase access to the state's group vision plan-including former legislators.
The bill, SB 1601, authored by Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, would allow former legislators who served at least six years to have access to the vision plan. Currently, they have access to the plan only while serving. The six-year requirement matches the standard used for eligibility for the state's retiree healthcare plan. The bill is headed to Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has not said whether he will support it.

The bill was sponsored by the Department of Personnel Administration (DPA), which oversees the Vision Care Program for State Annuitants. Like several companion bills passed last year, it is a non-revenue measure that would not incur any cost to the state. Instead, they would allow groups to buy into the vision plan offered by the state-which, in turn, should increase the overall buying power of the program.

"SB 1601 provides valuable benefits to state annuitants at no cost to the state," Negrete-McLeod said. "I have been proud to carry this type of legislation for the last few years because it acknowledges the hard work of retired public employees while not putting a strain on the general fund."

The bill would also allow state, legislative and judicial branch retirees to participate in the Group Legal Services Plan. This plan program is currently limited to active employees.

The state retiree vision plan was established two years ago with AB 2242, authored by Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont. Under that bill, the vision plan is subject to the state budget process. SB 1601 would create a continuous revenue stream for the program, according to Pamela Schneider, legislative coordinator at the DPA.

"It makes it continuously appropriated," Schneider said. "That's really for ease of administration. The retirees pay for it entirely."
"This bill and others for the last few years have simply sought to offer these self-funded benefits to state annuitants regardless of which agency they retired from," Negrete-McLeod said. "The legislation that initiated providing these programs to retirees didn't capture all retirees in state service. Several legislators have had to go back and bring in the last subsets of state retirees to bring them into the fold."

Retirees from the California State University system gained access to the vision program via another piece of Negrete-McLeod legislation, SB 235, that was signed last year. County employees can join the County Retirement System Vision Care Program, established by AB 1288 from Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Hayward. Another Hayashi bill-AB 1997, passed to the governor earlier this month-would give access to University of California retirees, among others.

A bill that would have called on the state to pay for half of the cost of this program-SB 689 from Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana-has been stalled since February.

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