Association Prepares For Legislature's Round 2

JANUARY 2014 VOICE: As the state legislature begins Round 2 of its two-year session in January, the Association is poised to advance its legislative package.

All eighteen bills, filed by the Association in 2013, have now  had a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Service. Some have since been released favorably by the Committee and are now working their way through the process on Beacon Hill.

The last of the bills to be heard was S1282 on November 21st. Filed by Senator Michael Rush (D-Boston), the bill would grant current retirees credit for their past military service. A similar bill, S1249, was heard by the Committee last spring and now sits before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Similar to the past two years, 2014 begins with much of the focus remaining on healthcare – retiree healthcare benefits to be exact. H59, Governor Patrick’s proposed Retiree Healthcare Reform legislation, remains under the review of the Public Service Committee.

“Just as been the case over the past few years, healthcare will likely dominate the conversation again in 2014,” predicts Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. “We might see H59 move forward in the House sometime over the winter to early spring. The real question right now is what form the bill might take if and when it is passed into law (see more info in cover story).”

Earlier in the session the Committee released H2354 favorably to the House Committee on Ways and Means, where it remains under review. The bill would correct the Option B and C mortality tables for pre-July 2004 retirees.

While the bulk of the Association’s proposals remain under review, officials are hopeful for early action on a number of initiatives in 2014. Among key Association bills are proposals to increase the basic life insurance benefit from $5,000 to $10,000 for state retirees and employees. This benefit is set at the municipal level by local government, thus no state action is required.

Also pending before the House Committee on Ways and Means is legislation that would raise the COLA base for state and teacher retirees beyond the current $13,000, which was set in 2011.

The local retirement board and legislative body determine the local COLA base.

“Increasing retirement benefits, such as the COLA base, is largely dependent on the performance of the financial markets. Right now, it looks like 2013 was another banner year for investment returns, which will make it easier to increase benefits within the constraints of the pension funding schedules,” explains Association President Frank Valeri. “The hope is to keep moving the COLA base forward as the schedule permits.”