CLEAT Stands Up for University/School District Officers
--- Makes another push for legislation to address pension disparity / inequity
By: Chris Jones, Membership Services Coordinator
March 8th, was the 60th day of the current Legislative Session in Austin and the last day to file bills without special permission. CLEAT’s legislative program for 2019 has taken shape with a number of bills filed to help and protect officers. At the center is a number of bills filed to address a serious pension disparity for university and school district police officers. CLEAT is the only organization that has asked for bills to be filed this session to address this issue and we have been the only organization in the last 20 years to actively fight to fix this problem for campus peace officers.
CLEAT Leads on Pensions for Officers
CLEAT has lead the way for better retirements for Texas peace officers. In 1995, we drafted and passed SB 520 that provided a 20 year retirement option to municipal police officers in the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS). And in 2001, we successfully added an amendment to SB 523 that provide a 20 year retirement option for deputies in the Texas County and District Retirement System (TCDRS).
We know that science supports a shorter pension period for police officers. Hypervigilance and stress associated with police work affects mortality. Texas physician and Cedar Park police officer Jonathan Sheinberg once wrote “There is a simple reason that law enforcement officers have some of the best pensions in the country – we do not live long enough after retirement to fully collect them.” And in the past, the Texas Legislature has recognized this fact for most other peace officers, but has continuously overlooked officers in the Teach Retirement System (TRS).
Other state officers, including Texas DPS troopers, TABC Agents, and Parks & Wildlife game wardens, all have a shorter pension eligibility period and higher pension percentage than campus officers. This is due in part to a supplemental law enforcement fund within the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas called LECOS. We have been trying to afford LECOS eligibility to campus officers for year. We made the first attempt in 2001 with HB 437, and have fought the fight ever since.
The 44 Year Pension Plan (How we got here)
In 2013, there were several bills moving through the legislative process to reform both the ERS and TRS. State leaders were selling the mantra that pensions were “unsustainable” and benefits had to be modified. Two bills were moving through the system to do just that, SB 1458 which made changes to TRS and SB 1459 which made changes to ERS. When the bills passed the Senate, we noticed one big difference. SB 1459 grandfathered peace officers in ERS/LECOS without changing existing benefits for those officers. SB 1458 did not. So we spearheaded a huge fight on the House floor to change that. We offered a floor amendment to SB 1458 that would grandfather campus officers under the existing rules. Again, CLEAT was the only state organization to fight this battle and we were successful amending the bill in the House. But the Senate did not accept the amendment and ultimately it was stripped off the final bill. This was a huge loss for campus peace officers. Under the changes made by SB 1458, a new officer in TRS has to work until 62 with the rule of 80. If the officer retires at any time before age 65, their pension is reduced by up to 7% per year. So the bottom line is this, if a 21 year old were to go to work for a university or school district, they would have to work 44 years in order to receive a full pension without reduction.
The changes to TRS has had a direct impact on the ability of the universities and school district to hire qualified officers and retain them. Why would a new officer want to start a career with a pension in TRS, when they can go to work for a number of municipalities or counties where they could earn a pension and retire in 20 years.
We have asked legislators to file four different bills this session to address the pension disparity for campus officers. Each bill has a different approach or fix for the problem. Below is a summary of the bills that have been filed this session:
These bills would return the benefit structure for peace officers in TRS to the provisions that existed before the changes in 2013. Specifically, officers would be able to retire at the age of 60 with 5 years of service if they met the rule of 80 or retire outright at the age of 65 with 5 years of service, regardless of the rule of 80. The pension reduction in TRS for peace officers would be reduced to 5% per year for each year an officer retired under age 60 if they were hired after 2007. If they were hired before 2007, the pension reduction would be 2% per year for each year under age 50 that the officer retired.
HB 2469 by Rep Roland Gutierrez
This bill would provide 20 year retirement eligibility for campus peace officers in TRS with eligibility for full benefits at age 57 without penalty. The added costs associated with the changes would be funded by increasing the contribution rate of eligible officers from 7.7% to 9.5%.
HB 2472 by Rep Roland Gutierrez
This bill would provide a 20 year retirement eligibility for campus peace officers with eligibility for full benefits at age 57 without penalty. The bill creates a supplemental retirement fund in TRS similar to LECOS in ERS to pay for added benefits and funds it with additional contributions from the employers and employees.
This bill is a proportional retirement bill that would allow campus peace officers to freeze their accrued service and benefits within TRS and begin earning service credit within ERS and LECOS. Upon retirement, those officers would receive a combined or proportional pension annuity from both systems.
We are urging that all campus officers contact their legislators in support of these bills.
CLEAT will continue to fight to ensure that all officers are treated fairly with regard to pension benefits and working conditions.