Attorney General: John R. Shears, Teachers' Retirement Board, 1990-037 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

November 25, 1990

John R. Shears
Secretary
Teachers' Retirement Board
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Secretary Shears:

This is in response to your request for advice dated September 13, 1990, in which you request the opinion of this office as to the meaning of the phrase "last employing board of education" as it is used in Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-183t as amended by 1989 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 89-342 (hereinafter P.A. 89-342). In addition, you request our opinion on whether the Teachers' Retirement Board may make subsidy payments for health insurance pursuant to Sec. 4(c) of P.A. 89-342 to a board of education other than the "last employing board of education." P.A. 89-342 provides in Section 4 that the Teachers' Retirement Board provide a subsidy to local boards of education for health insurance provided to retired teachers by those boards. Your specific questions involve a teacher who retired from the Barkhamstead Board of Education in 1982 and subsequently was employed on a temporary basis by the Groton Board of Education. The teacher is presently enrolled in the health insurance plan provided by the Groton board and wishes to have the subsidy provided under P.A. 89-342 paid to the Groton board.

For the reasons set forth below, the answer to your first question is that the phrase "last employing board of education" means the last board of education in time (i.e., the most recent) to employ the teacher. The answer to your second question is that the subsidy payment must be made to the board of education actually providing the group health insurance to the member, whether or not it is the last employing board of education.

Prior to the enactment of P.A. 89-342, Conn. Gen. Stat. e 10-183t provided in subsection (a) for the payment of twenty-five percent of the premium for group health insurance plans provided by the Teachers' Retirement Board for members receiving benefits (retirees), and in subsection (b), for the participation by members receiving benefits in group health insurance plans maintained by the member's "last employing board of education," at the member's expense. P.A. 89-342 amended section 10-183t by adding new subsections (c) and (d). The language in existing subsections (a) and (b) was not changed. New subsection (c) provides that the Board shall pay one hundred percent of the cost of group health insurance premiums for members covered by subsection (a). It further provides that the Board shall "pay to each board of education, on behalf of any member or the spouse of any member participating in any health insurance plans pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, an amount equal to the amount of the payment which the teachers' retirement board would make on behalf of such member or spouse ... if ... eligible ... pursuant to subsection (a)." (Subsection (d) concerns the funding for such payments and subsidies and is not germane to this advice.)

Thus the change in Conn. Gen. Stat. e 10-183t effected by P.A. 89-342 involves (a) the amount of the payment on behalf of the member for state group health insurance plans; and (b) the amount of the subsidy to local boards of education when the member is covered under the local board's group health insurance plans.

The phrase "last employing board of education" is not defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. e 10-183t, nor is it defined anywhere else in Chapter 167a, the chapter creating the Teachers' Retirement System. We must therefore determine what the legislature intended when it enacted the language in question.

Conn. Gen. Stat. e 1-1(a) provides guidance in situations such as this. It states in part, "[i]n the construction of statutes, words and phrases shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language ...." This is a restatement of what has been termed the plain meaning rule. Our courts have utilized this rule in construing statutes. In Dubno v. Colby, 38 Conn. Sup. 54, 59, 458 A.2d 396 (1982), the court said "[i]n construing a statute, legislative intent must be ascertained from the language of the statute itself if the language is plain and unambiguous. Connecticut Theater Foundation, Inc. v. Brown, 179 Conn. 672, 676, 472 A.2d 863 (1980)." It is our opinion that the words "last employing board of education" are unambiguous in their meaning. The term "board of education" is not at issue in your questions, and does not need further defining. "Employing," in this context, refers to the employer, i.e., one who makes use of the services of, or gives employment to an individual. Webster's New International Dictionary Unabridged, 2d Ed. One is employed when one renders services for wages. Webster's. "Last" is defined as being after all the others in time, final, most recent, that which is last in time. Webster's. The phrase "last employing board of education" has a plain and ordinary meaning. It means the latest or most recent board of education which paid the member for services. It does not mean the board of education from which the person retired, or the last board of education for which the person worked on a full time or permanent basis. "The words of a statute are to be interpreted in their natural and usual meaning unless the context indicates that a different meaning was intended." Whitefield v. Empire Mutual Ins. Co., 167 Conn. 499, 505, 356 A.2d 139 (1975). There is nothing in the context of this statute which would indicate that these words are not to be taken in their ordinary and commonly used sense. If the legislature had intended to mean that the only board which could be reimbursed is the board from which the member retired, it could have done so.

A review of the legislative history of both 1986 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 86-1 (May Spec. Sess.), which was the act first using the phrase "last employing board of education," and P.A. 89-342, reveals no detailed discussion of the meaning of that phrase. The only pertinent statement was made by Representative Jaekle in explaining Senate Bill 1001, the 1986 enactment, when he stated, "they [the retirees] will be allowed to participate from the board that they were last employed with ...." 29 Conn. H.R. Proc., pt 24, 1986 May Spec. Sess. 267 (June 6, 1986) (remarks of Rep. Jaekle). This statement indicates that the retirees may participate in health insurance plans of the last employing Board of Education.

Therefore, it is our opinion that the "last employing board of education" under Conn. Gen. Stat. e 10-183t(b) is the last board for which the member worked. In the specific situation which generated your request for advice, the Groton Board of Education was the teacher's last employing board of education notwithstanding the fact that the teacher retired from the Barkhamstead Board of Education, and was only employed on a temporary basis by the Groton Board of Education pursuant to the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. e 10-183v(a).

The answer to your second question is likewise dictated by the clear language of the statute. Specifically, you inquire whether the following language in Sec. 4(c) of P.A. 89-342 permits payments by the Teachers' Retirement Board to boards of education other than the last employing board of education:

On and after July 1, 1990, the board shall pay to each board of education, on behalf of any member or the spouse of any member participating in any health insurance plans pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, an amount equal to the amount of the payment which the teachers' retirement board would make on behalf of such member or spouse for his individual coverage and his form of coverage pursuant to this subsection if such member or spouse were eligible for participation in one or more plans pursuant to subsection (a).

This language makes no reference to the phrase "last employing board of education." It provides that the Board shall pay an amount equal to the amount it would pay for state coverage to each board of education for any member receiving benefits who is participating in any group health insurance plan maintained by the local board of education. There is no requirement that the subsidy must be paid to the last employing board of education.

Rather, the requirement is that the Board pay the subsidy to the board of education actually providing group health insurance coverage for the member. If that local board of education happened to be the last employing board of education, then it would be entitled to the subsidy. In the specific situation which generated your request for advice, since the Groton board of education is the board providing group health insurance to the retired member, it is the Groton board which is entitled to the subsidy.

In summary, the phrase "last employing board of education" means the last board of education in time (the most recent) to employ the teacher, and Sec. 4(c) of P.A. 89-342 requires that the subsidy payment be made to the board of education actually providing group health insurance to the member.

Very truly yours,

CLARINE NARDI RIDDLE
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Assistant Attorney General
Robert A. Whitehead

CNR/RAW/eh


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