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Cutting bennies

State moves to unilaterally change worker leave rules

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State workers have lost their two hours of paid leave to visit a doctor during work hours, short-term disability leave has been halved and veterans may no longer be given preference in promotions, according to unilateral rule changes already implemented by the state's Division of Human Resources.

State employees have also lost leave to go vote on election days as part of a long list of proposed rule changes implemented in late August without notice to lawmakers.

The Idaho Association of Government Employees, the public employees' union, has lodged a protest of the rule changes, arguing that it is not an emergency and should go before the Legislature first.

"Idaho law has a process for how you make rule changes," said IAGE organizer Alex Neiwirth.

The process is being followed, according to Judie Wright, administrator of the Division of Human Resources. A public comment period will follow in October and legislators will review the changes in January, Wright said.

According to Idaho code, temporary rules can be implemented by the Governor's Office for a few reasons, including to confer a benefit. Neiwirth said the sate believes that eliminating these benefits will confer a benefit to the taxpayer, a notion that he disagrees with.

"If people aren't able to find the time to get their mammogram or whatever, finding out about it a year later is going to cost a lot more," Neiwirth said.

The Medical, Dental, or Optical Appointment Leave, called MDA, allows two hours for state employees to make occasional, preventive visits to their doctor or dentist. It is being eliminated completely because, according to a FAQ from the Division of Human Resources, it is not spelled out in Idaho code and employees can use sick leave or leave without pay instead.

"We would expect that they would go to the doctor, that's why they get sick leave," Wright said.

Sen. Elliot Werk, a Boise Democrat, is already working on a bill to fix that.

"I'm going to do Department of Human Resources a favor and provide it in code," Werk said. "The governor obviously wants to move his process forward, looking at making the benefits and pay packages look similar to the private sector."

Werk said he would prefer if the governor considered higher pay raises for state workers as he works on their health benefit package.

Veterans are still favored in promotions within state government, said Patty Hodges, HR program manager, though the rule that authorizes the special treatment has also been struck.

In 2007 the Division of Human Resources tried to implement rule changes to cut worker benefits, but backed off.