Legislative Insight

Legislative Updates are published as conditions warrant. All new updates will be available on this webpage and are emailed to WSSRA members who request legislative information. Out of date documents are not posted to this page, but are available from the WSSRA Office.

To sign up for legislative alerts, please send your name and email address to peter@wssra.org.

The most recent Legislative Updates have been copied below:

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LEGISLATIVE INSIGHT

April 14, 2017

END OF SESSION UPDATE

The 2017 Washington State Legislative Session is now in its final stage. Bill cutoffs have passed, and any legislation that has not passed or is not tied to the budget is considered dormant for the remainder of the year. The rest of the legislative session will be devoted to budget and McCleary negotiations. The 2017 Regular Legislative Session is scheduled to adjourn Sunday, April 23rd.

LEGISLATIVE BUDGET PROPOSALS

Senate Republicans and House Democrats have released their respective 2017-2019 operating budget proposals. The budgets are wildly different from each other. However, both account for a budget deficit of approximately $1 billion, and funding to resolve the McCleary ruling. The Senate budget appropriates $43 billion and pays for McCleary through a statewide property tax and reductions in social service spending. The House budget spends $45 billion and covers extra expenses through tax loophole closures and the creation of a capital gains tax on nonretirement, large volume stock and investment gains. The tax rate would largely mirror Idaho’s capital gains rate.

The House and Senate budget proposals both offer gains to school retirees. Within current budget constraints, cuts could easily have been on the table. Fortunately, retirees are in the position to be advocating for benefit enhancements.

The House budget restores health benefits that were reduced in 2011. At that time, legislators cut the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit from $183 per month to $150 per month. The House budget increases the benefit to $166 per month in CY 2018, and returns it to the full $183 per month in CY 2019.

The Senate budget proposal increases minimum benefits for TRS 1 retirees. TRS 1 retirees who have 25 years of service and have been retired for 20 years or those who have at least 20 years of service and been retired 25 years will get an additional $27 per month in their pension checks. We are working to get this potential enhancement expanded to a larger population of retirees.

STATUS OF WSSRA’S GOALS & LEGISLATION

  • Medical Benefits. Medicare retirees who purchase Medicare supplemental insurance from the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) receive a discount on their medical insurance of up to $150 per month. This discount was lowered from $183 per month in 2011. The House budget proposal restores this benefit. The Senate budget proposal retains it at the $150 level.
  • Plan 1 COLA. WSSRA’s request legislation, SB 5556 & HB 1484, have stalled due to their cost. Those bills would have provided an increase of $2 per month per year of service credit for all TRS 1 & PERS 1 retirees. The State Actuary priced that benefit enhancement at $38 million per two-year budget. These bills are not dead, but sitting dormant unless they are funded in the state budget. A less costly proposal, SB 5833, was sponsored by Senator Honeyford (R-Yakima). This bill would provide an additional $27 monthly increase to TRS retirees who receive the Plan 1 Alternative Minimum Benefit. SB 5833 was priced at $4 million per two-year budget. It passed the Senate unanimously and has been accounted for the Senate budget proposal.
  • Protecting Pensions. At this point, there are no proposed bills to reduce benefits or close pension funds.
  • Making Pension Payments. State budget writers are on track to make the actuarially recommended pension payments to the state’s pensions funds. This will keep pensions well-funded, and keep costs from getting driven up in the future.
  • Plan 2 Default. The House passed HB1560 to make TRS/PERS 2 the default plans for new school and state employees who do not choose a retirement plan. This would offer a more stable retirement for retirees, and offer a small savings the state budget. HB 1560 has not been taken up by the Senate.

NEXT STEPS

The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 23rd, but that date appears to be a rosy projection. Independence Day would likely be a more accurate guess. Staff at the capitol have been instructed not to plan summer vacations, so that does not bode well for a timely adjournment.

Please feel free to contact your legislators at any time and ask for their support. The legislative hotline number is (800) 562-6000. All legislator contact information is available at www.leg.wa.gov or on our webpage www.wssra.org.

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LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

March 28, 2017

The Washington State Senate and the Washington State House of Representatives have released their budget proposals for the 2017-2019 biennium. Both budgets offer school retiree benefit enhancements.

The House Budget (House Bill 1067), restores the Retiree Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit to the full $183 per month. It increases the benefit to $166 in July of 2017, and again to the full $183 in July of 2018. The House budget makes no other changes or reductions to retiree benefits.

The Senate Budget (Senate Bill 5048), provides a 1.5% enhancement to the TRS 1 Alternative Minimum Benefit. Retirees are eligible for the Alternative Minimum if they have 25 years of service and have been retired for 20 years or vice-versa. Minimum benefits are scheduled for an automatic increase this summer, and this change provides an additional $27 per month to TRS 1 retirees who qualify. Our legislative team is working to make this increase more comprehensive. We would like the increase to be larger and to include classified employees. The Senate budget proposal holds the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit at $150, and makes no reductions to school retiree benefits.

Please contact your legislators at this time. Thank your Senators for increasing TRS 1 minimum benefits. Thank your Representatives for restoring the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit. Please feel encouraged to send a thank you to legislative leadership as well. Contact information is available here: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/.

Negotiators from the House and Senate will now start crafting a final budget proposal. Our goal is to see both benefit enhancements included in the final draft.

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LEGISLATIVE INSIGHT

March 14, 2017

MID SESSION UPDATE

 The Washington State Legislature is now in the “Opposite House” phase. House committees are hearing Senate bills and Senate committees are hearing House bills. Legislation is considered to be dead for the session unless it has already passed out of its original chamber or is directly tied to the next state budget.

MCCLEARY UPDATE

Senate Republicans and House Democrats have released their respective McCleary proposals. A committee of eight legislators has been set up to find areas of agreement and commonality between the plans. Legislators are under the gun to get an agreement this year; however, there is no timeline laid out for the process. It will likely take the majority of spring and summer to reach a conclusion.

 STATUS OF WSSRA’S GOALS & LEGISLATION

  • Medical Benefits. Medicare retirees who purchase Medicare supplemental insurance from the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) receive a discount on their medical insurance of up to $150 per month. This discount was lowered from $183 per month in 2011. Budget leadership in the House and Senate have indicated some willingness to restore the benefit this year. We will continue to pressure budget writers to include the health benefit restoration.
  • Plan 1 COLA. WSSRA’s request legislation, SB 5556 & HB 1484, have stalled due to their cost. Those bills would have provided an increase of $2 per month per year of service credit for all TRS 1 & PERS 1 retirees. The State Actuary priced that benefit enhancement at $35 million per two-year budget. These bills are not dead, but sitting dormant unless they are funded in the state budget. A less costly proposal, SB 5833, was sponsored by Senator Honeyford (R-Yakima). This bill would provide an additional $27 monthly increase to TRS retirees who receive the Plan 1 Alternative Minimum Benefit. SB 5833 was priced at $4 million per two-year budget. It passed the Senate unanimously.
  • Protecting Pensions. At this point, there are no proposed bills to reduce benefits or close pension funds.
  • Making Pension Payments. State budget writers are on track to make the actuarially recommended pension payments to the state’s pensions funds. This will keep pensions well-funded, and keep costs from getting driven up in the future.
  • Plan 2 Default. The House passed HB1560 to make TRS/PERS 2 the default plans for new school and state employees who do not choose a retirement plan. This would offer a more stable retirement for retirees, and offer a small savings the state budget. HB 1560 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

NEXT STEPS

The next committee cutoff for our bills is April 4th. The Senate and House budget proposals are due in late March. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 23rd, but that date appears to be a rosy projection. Independence Day would likely be a more accurate guess. Staff at the capitol have been instructed not to plan summer vacations, so that does not bode well for a timely adjournment.

Please feel free to contact your legislators at any time and ask for their support. The legislative hotline number is (800) 562-6000. All legislator contact information is available at www.leg.wa.gov or on our webpage www.wssra.org.

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URGENT LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – February 13, 2017

Now is the time to act. The Plan 1 COLA legislation is in trouble. At this point, House budget leadership is leaning against passing House Bill 1484 out of the House Appropriations Committee.

If HB 1484 does not pass out of the Appropriations Committee by February 24th, it will be dead for the 2017 legislative session. It must make the cutoff deadline to be eligible for a vote on the House Floor.

Appropriations Committee members are listed below. If you are a constituent, it is especially important that you contact them.

Please contact your legislators in the House of Representatives and and ask them to:

  1. Support HB 1484,
  2. Ask Appropriations Committee members to pass HB 1484 out of committee,
  3. Remind them that you are a constituent.

You can locate your legislative district and your legislators’ contact information here: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Members of the House Appropriations Committee are:

Rep. Timm Ormsby, Appropriations Chair, D-3rd (Spokane)

Rep. June Robinson, Appropriations Vice-Chair D-38th (Everett)

Rep. Bruce Chandler, Appropriations Ranking Republican R-15th (Yakima)

Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-35th (Mason County)

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-31st (Auburn)

Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-11th (Renton)

Rep. Vincent Buys, R-42nd (Ferndale)

Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-26th (Kitsap County)

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-34th, (Seattle)

Rep. Cary Condotta R-12th, (Wenatchee)

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-34th (Seattle)

Rep. Larry Haler, R 8th (Pasco)

Rep. Drew Hansen, D 23rd (Kitsap County)

Rep. Paul Harris, R-17th (Clark County)

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-11th (Renton)

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-27th (Tacoma)

Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-32nd (Shoreline)

Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-40th (San Juan County)

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-13th (Ellensburg)

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-16th (Walla Walla)

Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-37th (Seattle)

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-46th (Seattle)

Rep. David Sawyer, D-29th (Tacoma)

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-9th (Whitman County)

Rep. Tana Senn, D-41st (Bellevue)

Rep. Larry Springer, D-45th (Kirkland)

Rep. Derek Stanford, D-1 (Bothell)

Rep. Pat Sullivan, House Majority Leader, D-47th (Covington)

Rep. David Taylor, R-15th (Yakima)

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-24th (Port Angeles)

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-18th (Clark County)

Rep. Mike Volz, R-6th (Spokane County)

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-2nd (Yelm)

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January 27, 2017

THE LEGISLATURE IS IN SESSION

The 2017 Washington State Legislative Session started on January 9th. As usual, the opening days of the legislative session were uneventful. The pace is now picking up.
MAJOR ISSUES OF 2017

Filling shortages in the state budget and fixing the K-12 finance system are the major legislative obstacles this session.

Without any new spending, the state would be approximately $1.5 billion short in meeting its financial obligations. Tax revenue has been increasing modestly, but has not been keeping up with K-12 and social service needs. Legislators will be forced to raise revenue or make service cuts in order to balance the budget.

Additionally, The McCleary Supreme Court ruling is forcing legislators to revise how Washington’s K-12 education system is financed. The Court has ordered the state to move away from using local school levies to fund basic education expenses. Cost estimates for a final McCleary resolution vary between $1.5 billion and $6 billion. This issue will need to be resolved before the Legislature can adjourn this summer.
WSSRA’S GOALS AND IMPORTANT LEGISLATION

The WSSRA legislative team is working on several goals that benefit retirees in each retirement plan. Important goals for 2017 are:

• Restoring the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit to $183 per month. WSSRA is working with party and budget leadership in each chamber to restore this benefit. It was reduced to $150 per month in 2011, and needs to be restored to the full amount.

• Restoring a COLA for Plan 1 Retirees. This benefit was also eliminated in 2011. Representatives Dolan (D-Olympia) and Johnson (R-Yakima) have sponsored House Bill 1484. HB 1484 would give Plan 1 retirees an additional $2 per month for every year of service credit. This legislation received a public hearing on January 26th, and nearly thirty retirees testified in favor of the bill. The Senate version, SB 5556, was filed and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on January 27th.

• Making the Actuarially Recommended Pension Payment. House and Senate budget writers are currently on track to make the recommended payments to the state’s pension accounts.

• Protecting Defined Benefit Pensions for Future Educators. There have been no attacks on the state’s defined benefit pension plans at this point in the session.

• Making TRS / SERS / PERS 2 the Default Plans. House Bill 1560 would make Plan 2 the default plan for new employees who do not choose between Plan 2 and Plan 3. This policy change would put new hires in a fully defined benefit pension plan, and also save the state money.

• Increasing Employment Opportunities for School Retirees. In the 2016 Legislative Session, the legislature passed a law granting all early retirees from Plans 2 & 3 the right to substitute teach for a limited number of hours per year. Senate Bill 5310 adds school coaching services to the list of allowed employment activities for those early retirees.

NEXT STEPS

WSSRA will continue to work with legislators on the goals and legislation mentioned above. We will let you know as soon as any critical bills are scheduled for hearings or votes.

Please feel free to contact your legislators at any time and ask for their support. The legislative hotline number is (800) 562-6000. All legislator contact information is available at www.leg.wa.gov or on our webpage www.wssra.org.

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April 15, 2016

END OF SESSION REPORT:

The Legislature has finished its official business for 2016. A few weeks overdue, the House and Senate were able to agree on a supplemental budget. This agreement will keep the State’s books balanced through June, 2017.

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

In the end, the legislative session ended in the way that was anticipated. The State had some unexpected expenses last year related to the wildfires and mental health funding. After those expenses were budgeted for, legislators left town to kick off their election campaigns. However, there were some hiccups mid-session that took the political establishment by surprise.

Six weeks into a very calm legislative session, the Republican controlled Senate voted to not confirm one of Governor Inslee’s high ranking political appointees. Normal procedure would be to notify the executive branch that a nominee would not be confirmed. In that case, an appointee could step down or withdraw their nomination in a more private and less embarrassing way. The vote was clearly an attempt to make a statement and embarrass the Governor. One Senator even took to bragging on the internet about the matter. Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, were furious. The bipartisan mood that had been building through the session was gone in an instant.

Budget gridlock followed the political appointee incident. The House and Senate’s supplemental budget proposals were roughly $1 billion different. The Senate proposed combining the Teachers Retirement System Plan 1 (TRS-1) pension fund with the Law Enforcement and Firefighters Plan 1 (LEOFF-1) pension funds. This move would reduce the unfunded liability in TRS-1 by $1.2 billion, and help to shore up that pension fund. The House of Representatives proposed closing tax loopholes to pay for new homelessness programs and teacher raises. None of these additional proposals were passed as part of the final budget.

WSSRA’s PRIORITIES

Most of WSSRA legislative priorities were achieved this session:

• Medical benefits. Retirees’ $150 monthly medical benefit was not cut. Currently, the state pays 50% of Medicare retirees’ supplemental insurance premiums, up to $150 per month. This benefit will continue.
• Retirees as substitutes. Legislators passed Senate Bill 6455 that will allow early retirees from Plans 2 & 3 to substitute teach without losing their retirement benefits.
• Pension Payment. The Legislature made the actuarially recommended pension payments to the State’s pension funds. Payments were also made to help pay off the Plan 1 unfunded liability.
• Pension Plans. No changes were made to the state’s pension plans for future educators and school employees. These traditional pension plans have come under regular attack in favor of defined contribution, 401(k) style retirement plans.
• Plan 1 COLA. Legislative budget writers were not willing to pay for a Plan 1 COLA at this point. We will continue to pressure legislators to reinstate a COLA for Plan 1.

WSSRA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE

The WSSRA State Legislative Committee was very active throughout the legislative session. Meetings were held in Olympia in January and February. WSSRA volunteers successfully met with over 250 representatives, senators, and professional legislative staffers. Legislative Committee leadership is busy gearing up for the 2017 legislative session.

NEXT STEPS

The 2017 Legislative Session will be very difficult. Many expensive budgetary needs have been accumulating, and legislators will have to face most of them next session.

We should hope for the best and plan for the worst. There are several actions retirees can take that will put us in a better position over the legislative interim:

• Please engage with your legislators and share your concerns. They will be in their home communities throughout this campaign season.
• The WSSR-PAC is working hard to support legislative candidates that are supportive of WSSRA’s priorities. The PAC needs your financial support. Funding decisions will be made in early August.
• It is important to sign up for legislative communications from the WSSRA office. The fastest way to receive updates is through email directly from our legislative office. Sometimes we only have a few hours to notify WSSRA members of important decisions being made in Olympia.

Thank you for all your past and future work in defense of retirees’ financial security.

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