Boards Adopting Laws Sponsored By Association

SEPTEMBER 2013 VOICE: One of the guiding principles of this Association has always been to improve the pension and insurance benefits for surviving spouses,” states Ralph White. “And, when we are successful in enacting legislation toward that end, it must be adopted locally in order to take effect.

“That’s the case for two pieces of legislation that we sponsored in 2011 for surviving spouses. Both are local option, meaning that in order to take effect, local retirement boards first had to adopt the law and then obtain the approval of the local legislative body – for example, town meeting.” Ed Note: While pension laws that improve benefits are subject to local acceptance, such laws are typically automatic for the state and teachers’ retirement systems since the state legislature is the “legislative body” for these two systems.

One of these local option laws allows for an increase in the minimum pension for the surviving spouses of public employees, who die from a non-work related injury or condition while still working, commonly referred to as Option (d) survivors. Before our legislation was included in the Pension Reform Law (Chapter 176, Acts of 2011), the minimum amount was $3,000 annually, and if a local system adopts our new law, then the minimum is doubled to $6,000.

“As we did back then, we thanked Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) for making certain that our Option (d) legislation was included in Chapter 176,” reports Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. “But, our thanks didn’t stop there.

“Senator Donnelly was also our go-to-legislator for passage of our legislation that significantly increased the minimum pensions for widows of disability retirees, who retired before November 1996 and died from a cause other than their disability, so-called Section 101 widows. First, with his help we were able in 2010 to allow retirement systems to raise their pensions from $6,000 to $9,000 annually.

“Then in 2011, Senator Donnelly worked with us again to raise the minimum from $9,000 to $12,000 for Section 101 widows. Needless to say, we were pleased that the State House was willing to allow local systems to double the pensions for these widows within such a short time frame – two years. It was definitely the right thing to do.”

But, as pointed out earlier, both new laws could take effect locally if adopted by the retirement board with the approval of its legislative body. So, as with any local option law, the process for accepting them continues among the 103 local retirement systems.

Survey of Local Systems

“Since both local option laws – Option (d) and Section 101 pension increases – have been on the books for over a year, we contacted the 103 local retirement boards to see what action, if any, they had taken on adopting either of these laws,” continues Duhamel. “What we found is some systems adopted one of the laws but not necessarily both.”

One example – a major one at that – is Boston. Its Retirement Board members, with the city council’s approval, have implemented the benefit increases for Section 101 widows but have not yet acted on the Option (d) increases.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got my check,” according to Louella Hoffman, a Section 101 widow whose husband was a disabled Boston police officer. “In fact, I called the Association to find out what had happened or if it was a mistake.

“They told me that the city had decided to increase my pension up to $12,000. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that they did this.”

And, then there are those systems that accepted both laws. Plymouth did just that, helping their Section 101 widows, as well as the local system’s Option (d) survivors.

“When the Association succeeded in getting these laws passed, our (Retirement) Board seized the opportunity to do what we felt was right for these survivors,” comments Tom Kelley, retired police officer and chairman of the town’s retirement board. “When we looked at how much they were receiving, it became obvious that the increases should be adopted, and town meeting agreed when they also took a look at the situation.

“After the first check went out with the pension increases, our retirement office was flooded with calls from survivors, thanking us. But, we couldn’t have done it without the Association’s commitment to helping survivors in the first place.”

Boston and Plymouth are just two examples. Listed below are the local retirement systems that have adopted either or both of these laws.

“We recognize that since the end of 2011, there has been a myriad of fundamental changes in the retirement law, including the administration of local systems, that understandably have occupied a tremendous amount of the retirement boards’ time and energy,” Duhamel points out. “Hopefully, as things settle down somewhat, boards can take the time to consider adopting these laws – something they’ve done in the past with other local option measures that have increased the pensions of their retirees and survivors.”