2013-2014 Legislative Session Begins

Association Files 15 Bills

MARCH 2013 VOICE: With the start of the new Legislative Session, the Association is advocating for the passage of its 15-bill legislative package. The package aims to improve pension and health insurance benefits for retirees and survivors.

State law requires each bill to be sponsored and filed by a legislator. The Association’s legislative team has opted to seek out sponsors who have an understanding of public retirement and have a history of championing the issues important to our members.

While much of the new session is expected to be dominated once again by healthcare reform and new tax proposals, the Joint Committee on Public Service will soon begin its public hearing process on the 900+ retirement related bills now under its jurisdiction.

As members are aware, it is the Public Service Committee, which holds jurisdiction over all retirement legislation. Nearly all of the Association’s bills will fall under the Committee’s purview.

“Our Association has a long history of working closely with the Public Service Committee and its staff. We’ll explain the rationale behind each bill, advocate for its passage and answer any questions that the Committee might have,” explained Shawn Duhamel, the Association’s Legislative Liaison. “Over the years, we’ve established a pretty high batting average in our ability to move legislation through the process.

“Right now the biggest hurdle we face is the economy and its effect on the budget. Once you successfully move a bill beyond public service, which means the Committee feels the issue has merit and should be a priority, the bill then goes before the Ways and Means Committee. It is there that the financial impact of a proposal is closely examined.”

“Ways and Means can either make or break the outcome of an issue. It is their job to put a price tag on a bill and determine how it will be paid for,” says Association President Ralph White. “This can be the most difficult stage of the process. And since most of our proposals carry a hefty price tag, success is never a sure bet, regardless of the merits.

“But we have never lost an issue due to lack of access or our ability to make a compelling argument.  Often times the reason a bill cannot move is due to the cost and how the issue fits into the big picture at that time.”

Areas of Interest

Traditionally, the Association only files legislation on issues that impact a large number of members. Retirees, who require special bills to correct a personal situation, are referred to their local legislators for assistance.

In addition, the Association has a longstanding policy of only involving itself in policy issues in direct relation to public retirees. We do not take positions on unrelated subjects, such as social issues; nor do we choose which legislators to work with by any criteria beyond their support of public retirees.

“The greatest strength of our Association has always been its ability to bring together thousands of members with a singular goal as public retirees. Branching off into other areas can only divide our members and harm our ability to be effective in our core mission,” said Duhamel. “We approach the decision on which bills to file in the same manner. We’re only going to take on issues that benefit a large number of public retirees and have a legitimate chance of being passed into law.

“To do otherwise grants retirees false hope and would diminish our effectiveness. It would also be unfair to our members.”

For the 2013-2014 session, the Association has refiled ten bills from the 2011-2012 session. In addition, another five bills have been redrafted to address members’ concerns.