One of the sleeper stories in this year’s season of reform is the consolidation of the remaining seven independent Sheriff’s into the state budget. The main cost benefit of this change is that the employees of the sheriffs will purchase their health insurance through the Group Insurance Commission now as state employees. The sheriffs will continue to be elected in their counties and operate independently (for the most part).
One of the controversies in the process was the setting of salaries for the smaller county sheriffs who would have seen a bump up to a higher uniform level in the original filing by the Governor. The final bill passed last night leaves them at a level reflecting their smaller responsibilities.
Another twist came in the vote on budget overrides. The Governor vetoed an outside section in the budget which would require the Sheriffs to purchase drugs for inmates through the State Office of Pharmacy Services. Use of the SOPS will result in savings through bulk purchasing and use of generic drugs. The Sheriffs pushed back on this, suggesting that they wouldn’t be able to get drugs they needed in off-hours. This concern didn’t seem valid though — SOPS is not a managed care organization where individual approvals would be required for administration of drugs to patients. It is a proposal to facilitate the bulk purchasing of drugs at a lower cost — the Houses of Correction have to stock their pharmacies from some place. Enough members were persuaded by the argument though (and/or wanted to stay in the good graces of the Sheriffs) that when it first came forward the Governor’s veto was sustained. On reconsideration, the veto was overriden and the bulk purchasing plan will be implemented.
It seemed natural, although not forward-looking, that the Sheriffs would prefer to control their own purchasing. But I was puzzled by the Governor’s veto and by Republican opposition to the plan. I asked around among those opposing the plan and didn’t hear any substantive answers.