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Florida Lawmakers To Revisit Pension Reform During 2014 Session

Florida Channel
House Speaker Will Weatherford (left) speaking at a news event hosted by the AP Wednesday alongside Senate President Don Gaetz (right). They outlined their 2014 legislative goals, including pension reform.

Two top Republican legislative leaders are revisiting a failed attempt to make changes to the Florida Retirement System. It’s one of five top legislative goals for House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

Last year, the House and Senate clashed over two different pension reform plans: one that would designate a single retirement option for new employees and another that would continue to allow employees to choose between two retirement plans. The Senate later moved to adopt parts of the House proposal, but Democrats and a few Republicans killed the bill.

Still, House Speaker Will Weatherford says while it failed to get across the goal line last year, he’s not giving up. Repeating a similar rationale he used last session, Weatherford says making changes to the state’s retirement system is necessary.

“Again, this session, this Legislature will write a check for $500 million to an unfunded liability to bail out our pension fund that so many people praise. If our pension fund is so great, why are we having to take half a billion dollars a year that could be going to our schools, health care, a whole host of other things? We’re investing in an unfunded liability and we’ve got to protect ourselves from the future,” said Weatherford, at a news event Wednesday.

Opponents of making changes to the retirement system include police officers and firefighters. But, Senate President Don Gaetz says after meeting with their unions, both chambers are working on a compromise they’ll like.

“We’re considering carve outs for the risk categories for our first responders. We think that the Legislature, not just this Legislature, but for years and years, we’ve drawn a distinction between those who are first responders and the way that we deal with many of their benefits and those who aren’t first responders, but are still valued employees,” said Gaetz.

The upcoming proposal is described as a “hybrid,” that could combine elements of the state’s retirement options: the state’s traditional pension plan AND the 401K-style investment plan. Only new employees are expected to be affected by the change. Meanwhile Democratic leaders, who opposed last year’s pension reform efforts, say they have no opinion on this year’s effort because they haven’t seen it yet.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.