PIFS and Senate Finance Committees Meet, Pass Thirteenth Check Bills

Executive Summary:

The first special session of the 87th Texas Legislature began on Thursday, July 8. Today, Friday, July 9, committees already are meeting to discuss bills that impact our dedicated public education retirees.

At 9:30 a.m., the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee (PIFS) met in a formal meeting to discuss House Bill 85, filed by Representative Glenn Rogers (R – Graford). At 1:00 p.m., the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 7, filed by Senator Joan Huffman (R – Houston). Both bills would provide for a one-time supplemental payment for Texas public education retirees who retired on or before December 31, 2020, not to exceed $2,400, if passed.

HB 85 was reported favorably out of the PIFS Committee.

Earlier this year during the regular legislative session, Rep. Rogers presented the same bill (HB 3507) in a PIFS Committee hearing. “My mother was a history teacher in Graham for over almost 20 years . . . I’ve seen first-hand how important educators are to, not just rural communities, but every community across the State of Texas. We need to do more to support retired teachers,” Rogers said.

Senate Finance Committee Meeting

During the Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator Joan Huffman laid out SB 7, stating that TRS currently has more than 445,000 retirees and serves 1.7 million members. She added that “TRS is on a path to actuarial soundness,” which is necessary in order for the Legislature to approve benefit enhancements of any kind by state law.

Huffman noted that the cost to the state is approximately $701 million to issue the one-time check to TRS retirees who retired on or before December 31, 2020. The supplemental payments will be funded through general revenue, as opposed to the TRS pension fund, enabling the fund to remain on the path to improved actuarial soundness.

Sen. Huffman authored SB 12 during the 86th Legislative Session in 2019, which established a stairstep approach to increasing the state and active educator contributions to the TRS pension fund.

She also stressed to the retirees how grateful the Legislature is to educators and all they do for the state of Texas. Sen. Nelson agreed, saying “we do value our retired teachers.” Nelson added that she is “very pleased this will be the first bill to make it out of the finance committee during this special session.”

Senator Lois Kolkhorst expressed her gratitude to retired teachers and to Governor Abbott for adding the thirteenth check to the call for the special session.

Senator Eddie Lucio commented that retired educators “deserve this more than any other group . . . they have educated generations of Texans.” He added that many TRS retirees “live in a month-to-month situation.” He then asked what it would take to provide a permanent COLA, adding “that’s where I think we need to go in order to give retired educators in our state peace of mind.”

“If we have the ability to help them (TRS retirees), then we should help them every two years when we come to Austin,” added Lucio.

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee testified in favor of the bill, thanking Governor Abbott for adding retirees to the special session call and Chair Nelson for prioritizing retirees as soon as the session began. He also thanked Sen. Huffman for filing the bill, which includes more retirees in the supplemental payment pool than bills previously filed during the regular session.

Lee added how important it is to keep the door open to discuss a COLA. “We are proud of the work the Legislature has done,” he said. He pointed out that Texas, unlike other states, has never underfunded the pension system, enabling it to be one of the largest and strongest systems in the nation.

SB 7 was voted favorably out of committee.

Other Benefit Enhancement Bills Filed

Many other bills that would provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or other benefit enhancement have also been filed but are not yet scheduled for a committee hearing:

  • House Bill 120, filed by Representative Drew Darby (R – San Angelo) would provide a 6% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to TRS retirees, capped at $100 per month. If passed, the bills would apply to every TRS annuitant who retired before August 31, 2019.
  • House Bill 159, filed by Representative Giovanni Capriglione (R – Southlake), would provide a 6% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to TRS retirees, capped at $100 per month. If passed, the bills would apply to every TRS annuitant who retired before August 31, 2019.
  • House Bill 160, filed by Representative J.M. Lozano (R – Portland), would provide a supplemental payment of up to $2,400 for TRS retirees, in which the funding for the supplemental payment must come from the earnings the retirement system makes on its investments.
  • House Bill 180, filed by Sergio Munoz, Jr. (D – Mission), would provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to TRS retirees who retired between August 31, 2004, and August 31, 2015, of 3% (not to exceed $100 per month), and includes a related study.
  • House Bill 77, filed by Representative John Bucy (D – Cedar Park), would establish a joint select committee to study the feasibility and sustainability of providing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to TRS retirees if passed.

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