- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Education Association on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the state teacher’s insurance board over what AEA attorneys say is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

AEA attorneys hope to reverse premium increases for public education employees and retirees, which were voted on by the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program board in April.

AEA alleges the PEEHIP board violated the Open Meetings Act by deliberating on the increases in a closed-door meeting before voting in a public meeting later the same day.

In the complaint filed in Montgomery County’s Circuit Court, AEA President Sheila Hocutt Remington says the first meeting was not advertised to the public, and AEA representatives were not allowed to attend.

“The PEEHIP staff designed this year’s meeting so that the real discussion and action happened away from the public eye,” Remington said Tuesday. “These meetings before meetings are designed to avoid dissent and to silence any voices calling for alternatives.”

The increased premiums will increase $15 per month for single coverage, $30 per month for family coverage and $50 per month for a spousal coverage surcharge. Retirees will see increases as well.

Attorney James Anderson, who is representing AEA in the lawsuit, said the suit is about challenging the board’s deliberative process. Anderson hopes the suit will invalidate the board’s vote and prevent future closed-door meetings.

But AEA President Sheila Hocutt Remington believes the new rates will essentially cannibalize the 4 percent pay raise legislators approved for teachers making less than $75,000 annually, the first pay increase Alabama’s teachers have seen in nearly a decade. Teachers making more than $75,000 are set to receive a 2 percent bump.

In a letter sent to PEEHIP members earlier this month, Retirement Systems of Alabama Deputy Director Don Yancey said the PEEHIP board doesn’t take the premium costs lightly but believes the salary increase should be “significantly more income” than the increases will cost.

The premium rates are set to increase on October 1.

Neither Yancey nor board representatives immediately responded to telephone messages.

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