Retirement bill change in committee

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Tom Tate of the Louisiana Association of Educators voices his concerns Thursday about House Bill 60 during the House Retirement Committee meeting.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Tom Tate of the Louisiana Association of Educators voices his concerns Thursday about House Bill 60 during the House Retirement Committee meeting.

A Louisiana House committee approved a proposed pension law change Thursday, which a legislator claimed had not met legal requirements to be considered.

State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, challenged a House Retirement Committee revamp of House Bill 60, which changed the purpose of the legislation from what was advertised.

The state Constitution requires public notice on pension bills at least 45 days in advance of a legislative session to provide time for actuaries to do proper financial analysis and alert the public what’s coming.

The legislation advertised dealt with “return to work” retirement system policies. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, changed it to address non-governmental employees who are members of the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

“It’s a total rewrite and has nothing to do with what the one bill (advertised) was,” Jones complained.

Jones questioned whether the change was relevant to the original purpose.

Committee Vice Chairman Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, ruled that the amendment could be taken up. He said Jones could wage his challenge on the House floor.

Lorusso said change dealt with “the same subject matter.”

Talbot originally proposed a rewrite that would have removed from the teachers retirement system some 40 members who are employees of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators. Almost half are LAE employees.

State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, said Talbot’s proposal would run into legal problems because it would change employment contracts terms of current system members. “We are messing with people’s lives,” Montoucet said.

Montoucet also said membership in Teachers’ Retirement has already been stopped for new employees of the High School Athletic Association.

The committee revamped the measure again to cut off membership for employees of the groups hired after July 1, 2013.

Teachers Retirement executive director Maureen Westgard said the Internal Revenue Services has been looking at the issue involving employees such as those targeted by Talbot for some time but has not yet opined on their status.

“We are a federally qualified plan. We have to follow what they say,” said Westgard. “This is a much broader issue than what you have before you today. This includes all employees considered private. The big one in Louisiana is charter schools ... Are they in or are they out.”

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education already has allowed seven charter schools to come out of the teachers retirement system and East Baton Rouge Parish approved one, she said.

“If someone pulls out, the rest of the employees are absorbing that cost,” Westgard said.

The committee voted 9-2 to approve the substitute bill which will be given a new number because it was so heavily rewritten.