Retirement & Health Benefits for February 19, 2021

Fred Yancey | The Nexus Group
Feb 19, 2021
Retirement Blog

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.” ~ Rita Mae Brown

The deadline for policy bills has come and gone, and the deadline for fiscal bills is imminent. Both Houses will now focus on ‘floor’ action, or in this case ‘zoom’ action.

Simply stated, at this point, bills will have either been moved out of the policy and fiscal by end of day, Feb. 22nd, moved out of the respective Rules Committee, placed on the floor calendar awaiting action, passed by the bodies, and sent to the opposite house by the March 9th or they are ‘dead’. The cycle then repeats in the opposite chamber.

FYI: Being on a floor calendar only means the bill can be bought up for a vote by the whole body. However, there is no guarantee that a bill will so move off the calendar. Many bills die at this point as well.

Here is a summary of what is still in obvious play. And even though some bills have dropped off the radar, any of them can come back either because they are ‘Necessary to Implement the Budget” or just because leadership is persuaded to revive them.

Retirement Related Proposals

HB 1032 Concerning early retirement options for members of the teachers’ retirement system and school employees’ retirement system plans 2 and 3. This bill has apparently died. WSSRA (WA State School Retirees’ Assn.) was the lead on this bill and although WEA-Retired and RPEC (Retired Public Employees’ Council) supported the bill, their organizations did not prioritize it for public support.

Bill status: “Dead”.

SB 5021 Concerning the effect of expenditure reduction efforts on retirement benefits for public employees, including those participating in the shared work program. This bill provides that specified public pension and retirement calculations will not be reduced as a result of state mandated furloughs.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SB 5352 Allowing new government employees the option of opting out of retirement system membership if the employee is age sixty or older when first hired or when the employee’s employer opts into retirement plan participation.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SB 5367 Directing the department of retirement systems to create rules regarding automatic refunds of retirement contributions in the retirement systems listed in RCW 41.50.030.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SB 5453 Concerning plans 1 and 2 of the state retirement systems. This bill by Senator Schoesler was introduced on Feb. 12th and assigned to Ways and Means. Although no hearing to date has been set, this bill is NTIB.

It is a 137-page proposal whose most significant feature is a proposed plan merger and transfer of excess cash assets from the LEOFF 1 (Law Enforcement/Fire Fighters) retirement plan into the TRS 1 plan. This would allow the unfunded liability of TRS 1 to shrink, lowering employer costs. (Employers currently pay a surcharge to help decrease the TRS and PERS liability. This surcharge would be lowered as the unfunded liability decreases.) As an FYI, LEOFF 1 is the older plan and was replaced by LEOFF 2. Presently, LEOFF 1 has a decreasing number of recipients while maintaining a cash balance in excess of $1.5 billion dollars. Thus, there is money to be had, as Sen. Schoesler and others would claim. The House Republicans placed this merger is their recently released budget.

School Employee Benefit Board (SEEB) SB 5322 Prohibiting dual enrollment between school employees’ benefits board and public employees’ benefits board programs.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SB 5326 Concerning health and pension benefits for school bus drivers employed by private nongovernmental entities.

This bill was scheduled for Executive Session on 2/15 before the Senate Ways and Means Committee and there was no action taken then. However, it is rescheduled for Executive Session on 2/22 before the WM Committee. This is viewed as a ‘pro-Union’ bill and both houses with Democratic majorities favor union issues. There is a proposed amendment that would make the bill null and void if funding is not provided.

Bill status: Executive Session WM Committee.

Other bills

There remain a diminishing number of bills proposed primarily dealing with expanding various employee benefits and qualifications. They address such areas as unemployment compensation, family and medical leave, and workmen’s compensation. These proposals may or may not apply to school districts and represent potential added costs to a district’s operations. Two bills (SHB 1073 and SSB 5097 ) in the 2021 virtual legislative session are proposing changes.

SHB 1073 expands coverage of the paid family and medical leave program. It modifies the definition of “family member” for Paid Family and Medical Leave and provides temporary alternate eligibility for claims through June 30, 2022.

Bill status: House Appropriations Executive Session 2/18.

SSB 5097 expands coverage of the paid family and medical leave program. It a) changes the definition of family member, b) modifies the requirements for certain employment protections upon return from leave, and c) modifies which employees are eligible for continuation of health benefits during leave.

Bill status: Senate Floor Calendar.

SHB 1363 Addressing secondary trauma in the K–12 workforce. It is in Rules Committee awaiting scheduling for floor action.

Bill status: House Floor Calendar.

HB 1486 Concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work. This bill: * adds unemployment insurance good cause quit provisions relating to inaccessibility of certain care and for relocation near a minor child, * allows individuals with caregiving responsibilities to restrict their availability and have certain responsibilities considered in the determination of suitable work, * makes benefits paid for inaccessibility of certain care due to shift alteration only chargeable to the separating employer, and * makes benefits paid related to relocation near a minor child noncharged.

Bill status: House Floor Calendar.

SHB 1492 Concerning extended benefits in the unemployment insurance system.

Bill status: House floor calendar.

SSB 5064 Concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SSB 5137 Suspending workers’ compensation cost-of-living adjustments for fiscal year 2022, changing the basis of certain future adjustments to the consumer price index, and capping the rate of increase for future adjustments.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SSB 5254 Concerning the use of protective devices and equipment during a public health emergency. This bill requires an employer that does not require a specific type of personal protective equipment (PPE) to accommodate an employee’s or contractor’s voluntary use of that PPE during a public health emergency, subject to certain conditions.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

SSB 5425 Concerning extended benefits in the unemployment insurance system. This bill a) allows claimants to be eligible for unemployment insurance extended benefits regardless of whether their 52-week benefit year has expired, b) allows the state’s extended benefit program to “trigger on” without having to wait the 13 weeks between extended benefit periods, and c) amends a job search provision, for the purposes of federal conformity, regarding denying extended benefits for failing to accept an offer of, or apply for, suitable work.

Bill status: Senate floor calendar.

Fred Yancey
The Nexus Groups


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