The past few weeks have been busy at the Capitol for OPEA. The deadline passed for the Senate to hear House bills in committee. The House has one more week to hear Senate bills in committee. Below is a quick update on issues and a bill list.
On March 24, OPEA made a presentation to the Senate Select Committee on Pensions. The Association recommended that legislation currently in the House and Senate should be amended to allow retirees to receive cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) if a system is funded at 80 percent or above.
HB 2132, by Speaker Kris Steele and Rep. Randy McDaniel, and SB 891, by Sen. Mike Mazzei, would require COLAs to be funded by legislative appropriations and not by a retirement system’s investments. Under these bills, retirees would have to compete with state agencies, education and other spending priorities for increases to cover the rising cost of health care and other essentials. Both bills passed their opposite house committee but will move to conference committee after passing opposite chambers. Then a final bill must pass both the House and Senate.
OPEA supports a compromise that would allow COLAs to be funded through appropriations or from the retirement systems’ assets if the system is funded by at least 80 percent, according to its latest annual actuarial study. Pension experts have traditionally cited 80 percent as an acceptable measure of soundness in a system.
“OPEA is hoping to amend the legislation with the 80 percent change in conference committee,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.
The average OPERS retiree benefit is the lowest of the six public pension systems, at less than $15,000. Teacher pensions are next at $18,000. State employees whose average salary is $35,209 must work 27 years to earn a retirement benefit of $18,360.
In response to a recommendation by education groups that state assets should be sold to help fund the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), OPEA Executive Director told the Senate committee the state should not sell assets where state employees currently work to shore up the educators’ system.
To read OPEA’s position paper on this important issue click here.
On March 31, Rep. Murphey presented a committee substitute for SB 190 (Aldridge, Murphey) to the House Government Modernization Committee containing language that changes the benefit allowance to the premium for the HealthChoice high deductible plan and the deductible for the plan ($1,500 per year). Employees would only receive the deductible when they choose the high deductible plan.
“State employees should not be forced to take a certain insurance product to receive all their benefit allowance,” said Zearley. “State employees have not received a pay raise in five years. While the benefit allowance calculation should be addressed, this is not the answer.”
The bill was heard in committee and passed only after Rep. Murphey agreed to strike the enacting clause and work with OPEA on changes.
“OPEA is working on proposals that maintain the benefit allowance at its current rate and makes it easier for state employees to use the high deductible/HSA plan,” said Zearley.
Other Bills of Interest
HB 1207 (Murphey, Sykes) is a government modernization bill providing for transparency and technology reform. OPEA was successful in amending the bill in committee to allow state employees to use shared leave during payroll lag in the new bi-weekly system. (Passed Senate Appropriations)
SB 259 (Coates, McNiel) raises the amount of negotiable bonds the Tourism Commission can issue from $5 million to $10 million. OPEA supports. (Passed House Appropriations)
SB 483 (Crain, Pam Peterson) Originally, this bill stated legislative intent that agencies should privatize services and directed OKDHS to submit an annual privatization plan to state leaders. A new version of the bill will be heard on Monday, April 11 in House Committee. This version removes all the current language and deals with Areawide Aging Agencies. (House Human Services Committee)
HB 1363 (Ron Peters, Jolley) requires the Health Care Authority to issue a request-for-proposal for the administration of the ADvantage waiver. OPEA has worked to amend the bill to allow state employees who currently work in the ADvantage Administration Unit to compete for their jobs. (Passed Senate Appropriations)
HB 1359 (Peters, Brinkley) creates a 23-member task force to make recommendations to improve foster care. The bill designates a position on the task force for an OPEA member who works in child welfare. OPEA was successful in defeating legislation that would privatize child welfare earlier in session. (Signed by the Governor)