Senate rejects House efforts to protect legislators’ retirement

Members of the Oklahoma Senate rejected legislation, advanced by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, that would have increased the retirement benefits of many lawmakers.

Instead, senators amended the bill to remove those provisions and essentially passed entirely new legislation that simply bolsters the employer’s match for state workers’ pension contributions.

As passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on March 24, House Bill 2486 eliminated a state defined contribution pension plan, similar to a 401(k) plan in the industry. private, and instead placed most state government employees in a more lucrative defined scheme. benefits plan.

Members of the Oklahoma Legislative Assembly, including those who voted for the bill, would have been transferred to the defined benefit plan, which would provide a guaranteed, specified amount in retirement benefit payments.

The change could have significantly increased the retirement benefits of many House lawmakers.

At the same time, the change would also have eliminated billions of dollars in state savings that have helped shore up Oklahoma state government retirement systems.

When lawmakers voted in 2014 to transfer most new state government employees to a newly created 401(k)-style retirement plan, the change was expected to save taxpayers $3.8 billion on 30 years.

Prior to this reform and others enacted around the same time, the Oklahoma state government had some of the most poorly funded state pension systems in the country.

Several members of the Senate Pensions and Insurance Committee have expressed their opposition to the reversal of this 2014 reform, especially given the appearance of personal transactions.

“Based on the language I see in (HB) 2486, the House version that came up, on page 37, put lawmakers back in the defined benefit program,” State Senator Marty Quinn said. , R-Claremore. “Is it true or not?”

“That’s right,” replied Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, who is the Senate author of HB 2486.

“Does Bill 2486 end the defined contribution plan for state employees and elected officials and put everyone back on the defined benefit plan? asked State Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee.

“That was the design of the original bill,” Pemberton said.

Current law states that any statewide elected official or legislator who takes office after Nov. 1, 2015, will “become a participant in the defined contribution system” instead of the prior state defined benefit plan.

Page 37 of House Bill 2486, as passed by the House, would have repealed this language.

“I was a ‘no’ on the bill the moment it arrived,” said State Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole.

Pemberton introduced a committee substitute for the bill that effectively gutted the House legislation and replaced it with all the new language that Pemberton says leaves the DC plan “as it is,” apart from the increase in employer matching provided by the state government.

Under the replacement legislation proposed by the senators, the length of the bill was reduced from 51 pages in the House version to just 10 in the Senate and the only major change was to increase employer contributions to the system.

“It would make the plans more lucrative and solid for employees, and hopefully be a bit more of a reason for individuals to stay in state employment,” Pemberton said.

In its Senate-amended version, stripped of House language, HB 2486 passed the Senate Pension and Insurance Committee by a vote of 7 to 1 with one member abstaining.

Despite the plain language of the original bill, some House lawmakers insisted that HB 2486 would not benefit them.

State Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, despite voting against HB 2486, said in a Facebook post, “The Legislature was not included in this bill,” and insisted on the fact that all reports that House lawmakers had voted to increase their own retirement benefits were “misleading”, “false” and “BS”.

After members of the Senate confirmed that the House version of the bill included lawmakers, the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs (OCPA) reached out to West for further comment. As of press time, West has not responded.

The OCPA also sought comments from House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and State Rep. Avery Frix, R-Muskogee. Frix was the house author of HB 2486.

Frix acknowledged that lawmakers were among the beneficiaries of the initial version of the House bill.

“It was always my intention to apply this change only to our 33,000 hard-working state employees and not to legislators,” Frix said. “When I introduced this bill to the House, I was clear that it was a work in progress and that the title was out of this bill. It was so that we could continue to work on specific wording as the bill progresses through the legislative process. As excluding lawmakers has always been our intention, this change should be welcomed by members of the House when the bill returns to our chamber for its final adoption.

A bill passed without a title must return to the original House for a second vote before it can be sent to the governor’s office.

As of press time, McCall had not responded.

HB 2486 has taken an unusual route through the legislative process in the House. It was given to the House Rules Committee rather than the House Insurance Committee, where insurance bills are usually heard. Additionally, when the measure was introduced in the House, several prominent lawmakers voted against it, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow; Jon Echols, House Majority Leader, R-Oklahoma City; and deputy floor manager John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando.

The House effort to increase pension benefits for lawmakers comes on top of a $12,000 pay raise for all state lawmakers that went into effect in November 2020.

NOTE: This story has been updated since publication to include comments from Representative Avery Frix.

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