May 4, 2022

The 121st day of the 32nd Legislative Session is Wednesday, May 18th. Bills not passed and transmitted to the Governor will die and have to be re-introduced at the beginning of the new legislative session in January 2023. The RPEA Legislative Committee has tracked legislation and budgetary items of interest to our members and retirees in general. With just two weeks left of the current legislative session, the matters described below are worth watching closely.

Representative Grier Hopkins (D-Fbks) sponsored HB 220 less than a year ago and it is now in House Rules waiting to secure the votes for passage. The amended version would provide the option of a Defined Benefit Pension for all employees hired after July 1, 2006. Employees would have the option of PERS Tier IV/TRS Tier III Defined Contribution Plan (similar to a 401-k) or enter a new tier of a Defined Benefit. The new retirement plan, PERS Tier V/TRS IV would mean a secure, monthly pension upon retirement, but it also shifts more risk to the employee through increased contributions and the same health plan as those employees in PERS Tier IV/TRS Tier III. The most recent actuarial report from Cheiron indicates the plan is now cost neutral, but mostly because of the reduction in medical benefits.

While not ideal, HB 220 is a top priority of APEA/AFT, NEA, and other public employee unions. Employees and managers across the board have experienced and documented recruitment and retention of staff over a period of years and attribute much of it to the lack of a secure retirement systems.

If you would like to help HB 220 pass, contact your legislator with the following link: Click-to-call.

A related bill, HB 55 has already passed the House and is in Senate Finance. Somewhat similar but not identical to HB 220, HB 55 will only apply to peace officers and fire fighters. If passed, it would give first responders the option of choosing a Defined Benefit Tier V or PERS Tier IV Defined Contribution.

There are two other measures reaching just shy of the finish line:

SJR 12 seems to be languishing in House Rules. It passed the Senate unanimously in mid-March and attracted a number of cross-sponsors on the House side. Sponsored by Senator Bill Wielechowski, SJR 12 urges Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) sections of the Social Security Act. Those provisions adversely impact Alaskans who worked in both the private and public sectors by reducing Social Security benefits by substantial amounts.

There are several measures in Congress addressing this issue, but two stand out with the most support: H.R. 82 and S. 1302, the Social Security Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-IO, and Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH. Both would fully repeal the WEP and the GPO from the Social Security Act. S. 1302 is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). APEA/AFT is affiliated with AFT.

HB 308, sponsored by Representative Louise Stutes, will establish a new program focused on dementia awareness including specific ways to involve community engagement, develop educational materials, increase public awareness, and provide a list of providers who provide dementia services. It is also in House Rules. The companion bill, SB 216 sponsored by Senator Mia Costello, is now in Senate Finance.

This concludes a look at key legislation of interest to members. There are ways to track these bills and others by logging unto akleg.gov and tuning in to https://www.ktoo.org/gavel/ or watch it on your television.