The Florida House passed a bill Friday that merges two pension reform proposals: one dealing with local pensions and another dealing with the state’s pension system. But, it’s unclear what will happen in the other chamber now that the combined bill is still two separate proposals in the Senate.
Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) is one of the sponsors of the merged House proposal. He contributed the part of the proposal that deals with overhauling the Florida Retirement System.
“This bill is a compromise approach that encourages employees to enter the plan most effective to suiting their career goals, protecting them, their choice, their opportunities in retirement benefits for them, while saving taxpayers a projected $ 28 billion over the next 30 years," said Boyd.
The pension reform bill is split into two efforts. One led by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) is a fix to a local pension issue that affects police and firefighters who are part of that troubled system. It’s an issue that’s taken years to come to a compromise and has widespread support among both Democrats and Republicans.
The other led by Boyd is more controversial and affects state government workers as well as teachers, police, and firefighters under the state’s retirement system. That proposal eliminates the traditional pension plan for Elected Officers and Senior Management officials. It also changes the default retirement option for new employees hired after July 1st of next year. Those who haven’t chosen a plan within eight months of starting their job will now default into the 401K style investment plan, instead of the pension plan. And, it lengthens the amount of time it takes for someone in the pension plan to receive their benefits from 8 to 10 years.
Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) is opposed to those changes to the FRS. He adds he’s tired of lawmakers whittling away at the pension system each year, especially since it’s one of the most financially sound systems in the country.
“Isn’t it enough that we force state and county employees to contribute three-percent just a few years ago? Isn’t it enough that our teachers are becoming increasingly frustrated with unfair evaluation and testing models? Isn’t it enough that our police officers and firefighters risk their lives every day they don their uniforms? So, when will enough be enough," asked Clelland. "I say, right now!"
Others, like Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton), question the motive behind merging the two pension reform efforts.
“Here we go again, it’s another scheme to stiff our public servants’ pension plan. It started out as a good bill for the firefighters and police officers, but then at the last second, someone had to sneak in a bad provision and combine bills,” said Slosberg.
But, House Speaker Will Weatherford, who’s made this a priority, doesn’t see it that way. He says both issues belong together.
“Local pension reform is needed in the state of Florida, but so is state FRS reform," said Weatherford, speaking to reporters Thursday. "Our reforms are moderate, they are I think cautious, I think they’re respectful for the people who are currently in the system, and they’re protective of the long term stability in the state. I think if members of the Senate and the House want a local pension bill to pass, they should want a state FRS pension bill to pass because they’re probably tied together.”
Asked recently, if the two proposals will meet his chamber, Senate President Don Gaetz replied, “You better check with the bill sponsor.”
So, WFSU did. Sen.Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) says while he doesn’t like the idea of merging them, he’d be “okay” with it as long as there’s no major changes.
“If something that comes from the House that looks like this bill, I’m not opposed to that at all. We’ll take the House bill, and we’ll always consider them. But, if it’s substantially different from what we just presented, I would not be for that bill,” said Simpson.
As for Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate)—one of the sponsors of the bipartisan bill to fix the local pensions in the Senate—he hopes that merger doesn’t happen, in remarks he made earlier this week.
“What I don’t want to see is legitimate pension—that everyone agrees is a problem—reform needed, I don’t want to see that compromised this year because it’s taken us four years to get an agreement on that, and we finally got that. But, the House unfortunately put the two bills together,” said Ring, during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting.
Ring says he expects his stand-alone bill has the votes to pass unanimously in his chamber. His local pension fix got teed up for a vote Friday, which is expected to happen in the last week of Session.
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