New Orleans Firefighters Pension issues worked out

After much controversy and debate, the state Senate late Wednesday approved four bills that would change how pensions for New Orleans firefighters are calculated and overseen.

“They have been hammered out and worked out over months of a lot of intense discussion,” said state Sen. Elbert L. Guillory, D-Opelousas and who as chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee handled the imbroglio that pitted the city’s firefighters against New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Guillory said both sides had hammered out a solution that was encapsulated in four bills.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the agreement was that all four bills would pass without any changes on any of the measures.

The Firefighters’ Pension and Relief Fund in the City of New Orleans has been beset with financial problems stemming from poor investment decisions and from failures in the past to put enough money into the system to cover the benefits paid. Landrieu entered the session seeking for the city government to take over the firefighter’s retirement system.

The mayor was unable to find a legislator in the city to handle the bills. State Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell and chairman of the House Retirement Committee, sponsored the Landrieu-backed legislation.

But the first Pearson bill heard in committee was defeated.

State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, sponsored legislation backed by the firefighter unions.

The four bills, sponsored by Pearson and Arnold, were the results of the compromise.

  • House Bill 41 would change the total number of board members overseeing investment and other pension decisions from 10 to seven. Two members, instead of five, would be elected from the active ranks of the department, while two, instead of three, would be elected from the ranks of retired members of the department.
  • House Bill 42 would change the final average compensation period for firefighter retirements from 48 months to 60 months.
  • House Bill 50 would require firefighters to contribute more to their retirement by gradually raising the rate from 6 percent to 10 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
  • House Bill 51 would increase the number of months of earnings included in the calculation of final average compensation for members from 48 months to 60 months effective for retirements occurring on or after July 1.

Two of the bills need to be returned to the House for approval of changes made by the Senate Retirement committee to reflect the final compromises.