Retirees Legislative Proposals On The Move

Retirees Legislative Proposals On The Move
Rep. Jerry Parisella and Senator Barry Finegold

Public Service Committee Favorably Releases 8 Bills

FEBRUARY 6, 2020: Earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Public Service favorably released 8 bills sponsored by our Association. These proposals run the gambit of retiree benefits, from pensions, to health insurance, and survivor benefits. 

At the start of each legislative session, the House and Senate clerks assign bills to specific committees based on the subject matter of the legislation. Legislative Committees are set up to focus on specific areas of public policy and law, with skilled committee staff having specialized expertise. Legislation involving public pensions and retiree health insurance almost always originates from the Joint Committee on Public Service.

Chaired by State Representative Jerry Parisella (D-Beverly) and Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover), the Public Service Committee spent the bulk of 2019 holding public hearings and conducting an analysis of each of the more than 600 bills assigned to the Committee this session. A favorable report indicates that the committee not only sees merit in the proposal, but that the issue has been well researched and vetted to ensure that the legal aspects of the legislation are sound.

After a bill is favorably released from a committee, it then begins what can be a complicated journey through the legislative process, involving multiple steps through both branches of the legislature, before ultimately being sent to the governor for final approval in becoming law.

“The legislative process is spelled out within the Massachusetts Constitution, which predates the US Constitution. It was meant to be a slow and deliberate process, with multiple steps,” said Mass Retirees CEO Shawn Duhamel, who previously served as the Association’s legislative director. “As advocates, we certainly wish things would move along more quickly. But the system is not designed nor intended to work that way.

“That said, we believe that every bill we file has strong merit. Each is a well thought out proposal, aimed at bettering the lives of public retirees and improving our public retirement and health insurance systems. The greatest challenge with the majority of our proposals is the cost. Regardless of the merit, most of these bills cost millions to implement. Some, like the COLA base increase, can run into the hundreds of millions. Cost is almost always the main hurdle in getting a bill passed into law.”

After being favorably released by Public Service, the bills will be discharged to either the House or Senate. This route is often determined by whether the main sponsor is a Rep. or Senator.

As is the case with most legislation, the bills will likely then be assigned to either the House or Senate Committee on Ways and Means. It is here that the financial impact of the proposal will be closely considered and the course of action determined by the legislative leadership. 

Last fall, the Public Service Committee favorably released legislation relative to the state’s Basic Life Insurance Benefit, as well as a proposal to increase the Veterans Bonus. Both bills are now before the House Committee on Ways and Means, chaired by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston).

“Late last year we met with House Ways and Means to discuss these two bills in detail. Both the Basic Life Insurance and the Veterans Bonus increase are active works in progress,” said Association President Frank Valeri. “And specifically with the life insurance benefit, we are also working with the Baker Administration and the Group Insurance Commission to collectively find a way to increase the benefit. We have a real commitment across the board to focus on finding a solution here and I greatly appreciate it.”

The Public Service Committee continues to work closely with Mass Retirees officials to develop legislation creating an enhanced COLA benefit. Further details will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. 

The following bills were favorably released from the Public Service Committee this session.

INSURANCE

S1489 & H2312 Raise State Basic Life Insurance Coverage: 

(Sen. Brendan Crighton & Rep. John Lawn): House Ways & Means

 Increases basic life insurance for state retirees from $5,000 to $10,000.

H2321 Retiree Healthcare Initiative: 

(Rep. Ron Mariano): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Makes certain benefit changes for newly hired state/local employees when they retire while protecting current retirees/employees and improving certain health care benefits for retirees/survivors.

S1523 & H2219 Local Retiree Insurance Protection: 

(Sen. Paul Feeney & Rep. Mike Day): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Requires that increases in the retiree premium percentage be applied prospectively to retirees who retire on or after the increase is implemented.

COST-OF-LIVING 

S1487 & S1576 State & Teachers’ COLA Base: 

(Sen. Brendan Crighton & Sen. Marc Pacheco): Remains under review by Public Service

Increases the State/Teachers’ COLA Base from $13,000 to $16,000 incrementally with Triggering Mechanism for future increases.

PENSIONS 

H2196 Options (b) & (c) Recalculation: 

 (Rep. Tackey Chan): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Recalculates, with updated mortality table, the pensions of those who retired prior to 7/1/04, when the updated table was implemented, and chose Options (b) & (c), an adjusts their pensions prospectively.

H2213 Post Retirement Public Service: 

(Rep. Mark Cusack): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Increases from 960 to 1,200 hours the restriction on the number of hours that retirees who resume public service can work. 

SURVIVORS 

S1536 Increase in Option (d) Minimum Pension: 

(Sen. Cindy Friedman): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Increase from $6,000 annually for state and teachers - $6,000 or $3,000 for local – to $9,000 – Local Option.

H2222 Survivor Insurance: 

(Rep. Marjorie Decker): Reported Favorably by Public Service

(a)  Minimum Contribution by Local Governments: Requires local governments to pay at least 50% of insurance premium.

(b) Retention of Coverage: Allows survivors to remarry and continue their coverage if certain conditions are satisfied.

VETERANS

S1503 & H2346 Veterans’ Bonus: 

(Sen. Vinny deMacedo & Rep Jerald Parisella): House Ways & Means

Increases the Annual Vets Bonus from $300 to $1,000.

S1581 Veterans Creditable Service – Retroactive Application:

(Sen. Mike Rush): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Extends the Vets Creditable Service retroactively to those who retired before 4/25/96 and adjusts their pensions prospectively.

S1504 Extend Definition of Veteran For Vets Bonus:             

(Sen. Vinny deMacedo): Reported Favorably by Public Service

Extends the expanded definition of veteran to those, with the requisite non-wartime or National Guard duty and retired on a superannuation retirement before 8/26/04, in order to receive the veterans bonus prospectively – Local Option.

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