On April 12, the Senate Finance Committee met and passed the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Sunset bill, SB 706. The bill was authored by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D – Brownsville), who also served on the Texas Sunset Commission while TRS underwent review. Lucio is also the Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The bill will now move to the Senate for action.
Upon laying out SB 706, Senator Lucio discussed how TRS is one of the largest public pension systems in the world and the importance of “ensuring the system remains accessible and responsive to its members.”
Lucio added that SB 706 “incorporates several major provisions that will improve the experience of retirees” when they interact with the system.
He discussed the proposed ombudsman position, stating it is a “vital role in member advocacy” that will help members “navigate the complaint process” and that reports to the TRS Board of Trustees on member interactions and suggestions for improvement.
The bill also addresses and would fix several areas of the employment after retirement law, including replacing the required forfeiture of an entire month’s annuity with a fairer dollar-for-dollar reduction when a retiree exceeds their allotted monthly working hours.
Lucio laid out several committee amendments that will have to be discussed before the entire Senate before being added to the bill. These amendments included adding the text from SB 288 (by Sen. Kel Seliger) that passed out of the Senate last week and grandfathering in retirees who retire before January 1, 2021 so they can re-enter service to help students recover from learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee testified in favor of SB 706, saying its passage would “ensure greater transparency of the agency” and “solve issues with return-to -work.”
Lee added “we’re very supportive of the agency for what they have done to start implementing some of these changes and to the sunset staff for including the (TRS) members in the review process.” Some members of the Senate Finance Committee also served on the Sunset Commission, and Lee expressed his gratitude to them for a thorough and considerate review of TRS.
He reiterated the association’s support of the ombudsman position and expressed favorable support of the committee amendments that were offered during the meeting.
TRS COLA Study Bill (HB 1732) in Committee Tuesday, April 13
Many of our members may recall that in the 1990s, a Consumer Price Index (CPI) Catch-Up Plan was developed and implemented through four successive sessions of the Legislature (73rd through the 76th). The plan was designed to help retiree annuities “catch up” with rising costs due to inflation. After completion of the plan, the 77th Legislature took additional action to increase state funding to TRS in 2001.
Since 2001, only one permanent COLA was enacted for TRS retirees. In 2013, a 3 percent COLA (capped at $100 per month) was granted for retirees who had retired by August 31, 2004. Any TRS retiree who retired after that date has never received a raise! Two supplemental payments—also known as thirteenth checks—have been granted. One was paid in 2007 (capped at $2,400) and the other in 2019 (capped at $2000).
TRTA knows the CPI catch-up plan laid out a blueprint for what can be accomplished over a phased, planned effort. It is the intent of HB 1732 to institutionalize a process that can ensure periodic reviews of the effect of the economy on the TRS retirees’ pensions and to bring to the attention of the Legislature potential sources of funding.
TRTA supports HB 1732, and we look forward to testifying on it in the House Administration Committee on April 13 at 9:00 a.m. A live link to the meeting webcast will be available from this website once the meeting begins.
We have news coming up soon about the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Recently, Representative Richie Neal filed HR 2337. Tim Lee will update TRTA members about this important bill later this week. Stay tuned!
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