Retirement & Health Benefits for February 12, 2021

Fred Yancey | The Nexus Group
Feb 12, 2021
Retirement Blog

What campaigns are for is weeding out the people
who, for one way or another
weren’t making it for the long haul.” ~ Calvin Trilling


Substitute the word “bills” for “people” and the current legislative process is summarized. As cut-offs happen, bills ‘die’ (with the caveat that any bill can be resurrected at the legislature’s will). They don’t make it for the long haul.

Lobbying, (campaigning) is the primary vehicle for either ‘killing’ a bill or keeping it alive. That is why contact with legislators throughout the session is so critical.

Here is a summary of what is still in obvious play. Advocacy on these bills is still needed. Legislative proposals need to be brought into the reality by having legislators hear how these bills will look and impact in the real world. Campaigns must be mounted.

Retirement Related Proposals

HB 1032 | Concerning early retirement options for members of the teachers’ retirement system and school employees’ retirement system plans 2 and 3. The bill proposed to reduce early retirement penalties for older school employees in order to help protect vulnerable older teachers and classified employees from health Covid–19 related health risks. It carries a fiscal note ($5-$15 million) that will probably kill the bill. It continues to remain before the House Appropriations Committee with no hearing scheduled.

SB 5021 | Concerning the effect of expenditure reduction efforts on retirement benefits for public employees, including those participating in the shared work program.

This bill provides that specified public pensions will not be reduced as a result of compensation reductions that are part of a public employer’s expenditure reduction efforts during the 2019–2021 and 2021–23 fiscal biennia.

The point being that an employee’s retirement calculations based on time served and salary should not be reduced due to mandatory furloughs.

This bill has passed committee and is before Senate Rules. It is subject to the March 9th deadline, where all bills need to be out of their house of origin.

SB 5352 | Allowing new government employees the option of opting out of retirement system membership if the employee is age sixty or older when first hired or when the employee’s employer opts into retirement plan participation.

This is a simple bill that address a limited number of people that enter the system later in their career when there is no benefit to joining the system. It is also a good example of how bills often come into being. In 2016, the Port of Chehalis opted into PERS and an employee that already had a retirement from earlier in his career was required to join and contribute to the plan even though he would not get any benefit from it. The employee contacted Sen. Braun (the now prime sponsor) and complained. Sen. Braun saw merit in this employee’s plight and this resulting bill seeks to correct it for the future. It is scheduled for Executive Session on 2/15 before the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 5367 | Directing the department of retirement systems to create rules regarding automatic refunds of retirement contributions in the retirement systems listed in RCW 41.50.030.

It is agency request legislation and is scheduled for Executive Session on 2/15 before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

School Employee Benefit Board (SEEB)

SB 5322 | Prohibiting dual enrollment between school employees’ benefits board and public employees’ benefits board programs.

It is scheduled for Executive Session by the Ways and Means’ Committee on 2/11.

SB 5326 | Concerning health and pension benefits for school bus drivers employed by private nongovernmental entities.

This bill is scheduled for Executive Session on 2/15 before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Clearly, the Chair and its sponsors intend to move this bill. Previous TWIO reports have pointed out the substantial costs that districts that use private transportation providers could incur should this bill pass the Senate, the House, and then get the Governor’s approval.

A concerted ‘campaign’ against this bill would be in order if districts are concerned. Tomorrow it may be private transportation providers, then could come the private food service people, school specialists, etc.

Other Bills

There remain a diminishing number of bills proposed primarily dealing with expanding various employee benefits and qualifications. They address such areas as unemployment compensation, family and medical leave, and workmen’s compensation. These proposals may or may not apply to school districts and represent potential added costs to a district’s operations.

ESSB 5061 | Concerning unemployment insurance. This bill would provide relief from spiking unemployment insurance tax rates based upon record filings caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Governor has signed this bill and it became effective 2/08/21.

Highlights of the bill include:

(a) Limiting unemployment insurance rate increases by:

  1. capping the social tax;
  2. suspending the solvency surcharge tax; and
  3. relieving certain benefit charges.

(b) Increasing access to benefits by:

  1. expanding eligibility for those in high-risk households; and
  2. waiving the waiting period when federally reimbursed.

(c) Modifying the weekly benefit amount thresholds by:

  1. increasing the minimum from 15 to 20 percent of the average weekly wage; and
  2. limiting benefits to a person’s weekly wage.

The Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) legislation passed in 2017 was an agreement between Washington’s employers and workers.

Two bills (SHB 1073 and SSB 5097 ) in the 2021 virtual legislative session are proposing changes.

SHB 1073 is awaiting scheduling before House Appropriations. SSB 5097 is before the Rules Committee awaiting a move to the Senate floor.

SHB 1363 | Addressing secondary trauma in the K–12 workforce. It is in Rules Committee awaiting scheduling for floor action.

This bill requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to publish on its website links to resources, self-assessments, and best practices for educators and local policymakers to prevent and address secondary traumatic stress in the workforce.

  • Directs the Washington State School Directors’ Association to develop or revise, and periodically update, a model policy and procedure to prevent and address secondary traumatic stress in the workforce that includes specified elements, for example, establishing a district-wide workforce mental health committee.
  • Requires school districts to adopt, by the beginning of the 2021–22 school year, policies and procedures related to secondary traumatic stress that incorporate specified elements.

HB 1492 | Concerning extended benefits in the unemployment insurance system. This bill allows claimants of unemployment insurance to be eligible for extended benefits regardless of whether their 52-week benefit year has expired. • Allows the state’s extended benefit program to “trigger on” without having to wait the 13 weeks between extended benefit periods.

This bill is scheduled for Executive Action before the House Labor Committee on 2/12.

SSB 5064 | Concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work. This bill expands a good cause quit for unemployment insurance purposes after January 2, 2022 to include: a separation from work because a child or a vulnerable adult in the claimant’s care is inaccessible; alteration of the claimant’s usual work shifts so as to make care for a child or vulnerable adult in the claimant’s care inaccessible; or separation from work to relocate near a minor child. This bill in Rules awaiting a move for floor action.

Fred Yancey
The Nexus Groups

  • SEBB
  • Retirement
  • Health Benefits
  • Advocacy & Legislation

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