The pace of the session is slowly starting to pick up. Committees finished up the SMART Act hearings last week and all committees will start hearing bills next week. However, even with the slow pace, it was a very good week for CSPA priorities.
One issue the CSPA has been working to address is comm officer pay. On Tuesday, the JBC approved the State Patrol’s request for an additional $306,000 to increase comm officer pay during the current fiscal year. Initially, the JBC denied the request out of concern it would set a precedent of increasing salaries mid-year. However, the Governor’s Office of State Planning & Budgeting (OSPB) asked the JBC to reconsider its decision through a process called “comebacks.” The OSPB explained that since May 2019 the State Patrol has had a net retention rate for comm officers of -22.5 FTE (68 FTE new hires and 90.5 FTE separations). The OSPB continued that this high level of turnover has resulted in severe staff shortages at three of the Patrol’s five dispatch centers. In addition, several non-base building initiatives, including recruitment bonuses, have not improved the situation. After better understanding the critical need to increase comm officer salaries immediately, the JBC approved the request on a vote of 6 to 0. This is very good news as it increases the chances the JBC will approve the Patrol’s decision item requesting an additional $1.7 million to increase base salaries in the comms program for next year and thereafter.
There was more good news on Friday when the JBC voted to give all state employees a 3% salary increase next year. While the JBC can always go back and change this decision, it is very encouraging that they voted to include the pay increase in the preliminary budget.
There were only six new bills introduced last week – none impact the CSPA membership – bringing the total number of bills introduced so far to 228. However, by the time the session is over in May, I anticipate there will be at least 500 bills introduced. Only 101 days until the General Assembly is required to adjourn sine die.