Legislation

Articles about Legislation that may be useful to Massachusetts retirees.

Early Retirement Moves To Front Burner?

JULY 2, 1999 - Public Service Creates Stir With Unexpected Bill - On
Tuesday, June 22, the Joint Committee on Public Service created quite a
stir with public employees and their State House lobbyists when the
Committee unexpectedly released an omnibus early retirement bill
covering nearly all public employees.

Widow's Remarriage Bill Receives Strong Support

JULY 1999 - Surviving
spouses of public employees killed in the line of duty made a strong
showing at a Public Service Committee hearing on May 25. The issue was
the right to remarry without losing a surviving spouse pension.

Legislation Moving Right Along

JULY 1999 - Public Hearing Process Near Complete - As
the Legislature approaches its summer recess at the end of July, the
Association's legislative team can look back at the first six months of
the 1999-2000 session as being a success.

At
the end of the first quarter of action, eleven of the fifteen bills,
now being supported by the Association, have been granted a favorable
report by the Joint Committee on Public Service. Three bills have been
placed in studies and one bill is being held for further consideration
by the Committee.

"We are off to a
great start. Both Brian Joyce (Senate Chairman) and Paul Casey (House
Chairman) have been very receptive to addressing the concerns of
retirees," said Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. "With
most of our bills now before the House and Senate Ways and Means
Committees, our job gets even tougher. Not to imply that moving bills
out of Public Service is easy. A case had to be made for each
individual bill before the Committee would act favorably.

"However,
Ways and Means is not only interested in the merits of the proposal.
Their main function is to determine the cost of a bill, along with its
long term financial impact on the state budget. Since many of our bills
cost money, this is a very high hurdle to overcome."

Committee Takes Action

In the May Voice,
we described how the Committee Chairmen and their staffs, despite being
new to the issue of retirement law, had quickly picked up on their new
subject matter. Both Chairmen have led the way in their respective
chambers on issues such as the COLA and early retirement.

This,
along with our lobbying work with Committee staff, has resulted in only
three bills being discharged into a study, rather than being released
favorably,from the Committee. Both H-305 and H-306, relating to
disability pensions, have been placed into a study. H-1287, which
raises the COLA base to $16,000, is also in a study.

One
bill, S-1284, which establishes a special study commission to explore
how to offer affordable retiree dental care is being held by the
Committee while the staff works on the drafting details. Dental
coverage has become a top priority for the Association's lobbying and
health insurance teams. Insurance Coordinator Cheryl Stillman is
leading the effort to find a workable plan for retirees.

"It
is not unusual for bills to be placed in a study while further
information is gathered. Quite frankly, with a new Public Service
staff, I would have expected more of our bills to be placed in a study
while they learned the issues," explained Duhamel. "Thankfully, both
chairmen have people around them who are quick studies and are not shy
about making a decision. Our members have really benefited from their
diligence."

Legislation: Status Report

H-305: Amends Chapt. 306, Acts of 1996 (disability law). Study.

H-306: Provides for indemnification protection for disability retirees. Study.

H-319: So-called "Needham bill", allows retirement system to forgive pension errors. House Ways & Means.

H-350: Minimum $10,000 pension for municipal retirees with 25 years or more of service. Reported favorably from Public Service.

H-351: $10,000 basic life insurance for state retirees and employees. Reported favorably by Public Service.

H-352: Right to remarry, redrafted by Public Service as S-1815. Sen. Ways & Means.

S-1273: Creates a study commission of Group 1 retirement benefits, redrafted by Public Service as S-1804. Sen. Rules Committee.

S-1281: Noncontributory retiree option C pop-up. Sen. Ways & Means.

S-1283: Health insurance reinstatement. Sen. Ways & Means.

S-1284: Study of retiree dental insurance. Held by Public Service.

S-1285: Allows municipal dental coverage to be offered. Sen.Ways and Means.

S-1286: Increases minimum pension for survivors of active employees who die of nonwork related causes. Sen. Ways & Means.

S-1287: Raises the COLA base from the current $12,000 to $16,000. Study.

S-1288: Allows for an annual COLA of up to 3%. Senate Ways and Means.

S-1588: Exempts noncontributory veterans pensions from state taxes. Sen. Ways & Means.

Committee OK's State Tax Exemption For Non-Contribs

MAY 1999 - In
a landmark first step, the Joint Taxation Committee, chaired by Senator
Marian Walsh (D-West Roxbury) and Representative John Rogers
(D-Norwood), voted in favor of S-1588, which would exempt the pensions
of non-contributory retirees, who are veterans, from state income tax.
Non-contrib veterans, who currently number about 4,000, qualify for
their unique status as public retirees if they worked before July 1939.

"We
applaud this action by the Committee, and its chairs, so early in the
legislative session," says Association President Ralph White. "This is
the first time in recent history that the Tax Committee has voted in
favor of this legislation."

Among
the Association's arguments for S-1588, which we will continue to make
as we push for final enactment, has been that these veterans deserve
the same tax exempt status recently given by the Legislature to
military pensioners. Their special circumstances (i.e., military
service plus public service before 7/1/39) justify classifying their
pensions as tax exempt.

New Senate Budget Chief Named

MARCH 1999 - Birmingham Appoints Montigny of New Bedford - A
new hand has been placed on the rudder of the Senate's most powerful
committee. Just as State House observers were settling in for a session
of the status quo, Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea)
decided to shake-up his leadership team by elevating Senator Mark
Montigny (D-New Bedford) to chair the Ways and Means Committee.

Key Retirement Committee Changes Leaders

MARCH 1999 - Casey and Joyce To Chair Public Service - The
winds of change blew through the halls of the State House this winter
to begin the 1999-2000 Legislative Session. For State House watchers,
the last two months have been filled with political intrigue as the
Beacon Hill landscape has been set in place for the session.

Disability Update: Former Officer Resumes Work

MARCH 1999 - Beginning
last month, a former disabled MDC officer - now state trooper - about
whom we first reported over a year-and-a-half ago (July '97 Voice) has
resumed work. Phil Lindsay, with two fellow disabled officers (Mike
Shimkus and Bruce Buckley) who were cleared for work by the State
Retirement Board, are now back with the State Police.

SENATE BILL NUMBERS NOW AVAILABLE

JANUARY 8, 1999 - All
9 Association bills, filed in the Senate, have been assigned bill
numbers for the 1999-2000 Legislative Session. House bill numbers were
reported in the January 1999 Voice.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION ENDS WITH FLURRY OF ACTIVITY

JANUARY 8, 1999 - Pension Bonds Gain Popularity - As
the 1997-1998 Legislative Session came to a close a midnight on
Tuesday, January 5, several retirement related bills had found their
way to the governor’s desk. During the final week of the session, our
Association’s legislative team fought to move the handful of remaining
bills through the process.

Central to our efforts was H-5469, the non-contributory retiree’s COLA law
which is now awaiting Government Paul Cellucci’s signature. In
addition, pension obligation bond authorizations for the cities of
Everett and Holyoke, along with a retiree health care trust fund for
the Town of Brookline each received legislative approval before being
sent to Cellucci.

Both the Everett
and Holyoke pension obligation bond (POB) bills, H-5876 and H-5863
respectively, allow those municipalities to do the same, as Worcester,
in satisfying the retirement systems’ unfunded liability. In other
words, the city will issue POBs and pay off now the full amount of the
debt.

On the municipal health
insurance front, Brookline is following the example set earlier by
Arlington and establishing a retiree health care liability trust fund.
Last year, Arlington was successful in obtaining passage of Chapter 12,
Acts of ‘98.

Chapter 12 allowed
Arlington to set aside funds in a retiree insurance liability fund to
offset the anticipated cost of premium payments by retirees in the
future. With some variation, Brookline will be doing the same to cover
future health care costs. It must be emphasized that the Arlington (and
Brookline) plans do not take money out of their retirement systems.

Over 5 years ago, our Association reported on this issue (7/93 Voice).
Also, the Mass Municipal Association has filed a bill in this
legislative session, allowing all communities to establish such a fund.
Further details on POBs and health insurance trusts will be available in the upcoming March Voice.

At
session’s end, two retirement bills came close but did not receive
final enactment. S-2331 addressed the operation of the retirement
systems for counties that have been or will be abolished, by
establishing "regional" retirement systems. H-5369 (commonly referred
to as the "Needham bill") would have allowed retirement boards, if
certain conditions were met, to forgive the repayment by a retiree of
pension benefits paid to him due to a mistake or error not of his doing.

We have reported on both these issues extensively in the Voice. They will be addressed again in this session.

COLA VICTORY FOR NON-CONTRIB RETIREES

JANUARY 5, 1999 - "We
never gave up our fight for non-contributory retirees to receive a
cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)," announced Association President
Ralph White. "And because of that, victory was achieved before the
Legislature ended its session."