LEGISLATIVE NEWS: PUBLIC SERVICE COMMITTEE HEARS ASSOCIATION BILLS

September 2021 Voice: We are eight months into the 2021-2022 legislative session, and the State House remains closed to the public. We are anticipating that this will continue into the fall and many of the functions of the legislature will remain virtual. This includes committee hearings, such as those by the all-important Joint Committee on Public Service.  

As we go to print, committees have begun to ramp up their virtual public hearing schedules. During a Public Service hearing on insurance and pension investment legislation, Mass Retirees submitted testimony on six Association sponsored bills. 

The first bill was in the pension investment category, H2607: An act relative to public retiree COLA financing, filed by Representative Mark Cusack (D-Braintree). In 1997, the State Legislature created two separate COLA laws – one for state and teacher retirees (Section 102) and one for local retirees (Section 103). And since then, our members have been well served by these laws. That said, the Association continues to advance proposals to enhance COLA benefits (see President’s Message, p. 1) including this new initiative. Our bill creates a separate COLA Reserve Fund in each of the 104 state, teachers’ and local retirement systems. A system will make deposits into the Reserve Fund, depending upon the return on investment of its pension fund. If a system’s investment return exceeds its assumed (projected) rate of return, then a proportional share of the excess investment return, that is attributable to retiree/employee contributions in the pension fund, will be deposited in the Reserve Fund for future COLA liabilities. 

In addition to this COLA financing legislation, several pieces of legislation, related to pension divestment, also received a public hearing. For more information on this topic see page 18.  

Under the category of insurance, we offered testimony on 5 pieces of legislation. The first was H2615/S1766: An act relative to health insurance for surviving spouses filed by Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) and Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) would establish a minimum contribution rate by local governments and also allow for the retention of coverage should a surviving spouse remarry. We spotlighted this and other legislation related to survivor benefits in the July Voice. 

H2708/S1676: An act further regulating group insurance benefits for state employees and retired state employees, filed by Representative John Lawn (D-Watertown) and Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), was also heard. In order to offer a more comprehensive life insurance benefit that appropriately reflects current funeral/burial costs, our bill raises the basic life insurance benefit for state retirees who are insured through the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) from $5,000, which was set in 1985 – more than 35 years ago - to $10,000. As a result of Association sponsored legislation, municipalities already have the option of setting higher basic life insurance benefits; therefore, no further legislation is required for the local level. 

The final three pieces that we submitted testimony on are related to the Group Insurance Commission. They are H2719: An act relative to group insurance costs for certain public retirees filed by Representative John Mahoney (D-Worcester), H2660: An act further regulating the withdrawal of local subscribers from the commission filed by Representative Thomas Golden (D-Lowell) and S1713: An act relative to the composition of the Group Insurance Commission, filed by Senator Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough). 

We anticipate that the hearing schedule will pick up now that the FY 2022 budget and legislation addressing pandemic related policies have been completed. 

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