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Florida House Passes Pension Reform Package

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The Florida House passed a controversial bill making changes to Florida’s Retirement System.

Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers) says he’s very proud of this latest effort to reform the Florida Retirement System.

“If you retired during the economic recession and cashed out of your investment because you feel like that was your best choice, and now, you want to come back and try to work for the state, you can’t get back into the investment plan,” he said. “We’re changing that. If you are a first responder or any other kind of employee and you chose to go into the investment plan, and you die in the line of duty, you’re not going to be punished for that decision anymore. You’re going to get the same death benefit as you would have if you had chosen the pension, from the very beginning.”

Both those changes in the House Pension Reform bill have widespread bipartisan support.

The controversial provision that most Democrats and public employee unions say they can’t get behind changes the default retirement option for new hires within the system.

The traditional pension plan is the current default and the more popular retirement option. Caldwell’s bill changes that to the 401 K style option known as the investment plan.

While she says there are good parts to the bill, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) is against the measure.

“A policy decision to, in any way, start eroding the state pension system—which I think this bill does, even though it’s one of the mildest bills I’ve seen in eight years—I think is a step in the wrong direction,” she said.

And, Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura) agrees.

“It’s difficult to keep having good provisions loaded down with bad ones,” he said. “It’s important that we provide that protection to families. So, why couldn’t we just take the very controversial one part out of this bill and leave the two good ones that we all probably agree on? Why load it down with this, in my opinion, anti-state employee provision that changes the default structure that’s worked?”

Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) has similar thoughts.

“When you look at the fact that this bill does provide some security for survivors, that makes it a good bill,” she said. “But, when you look at the fact that this bill also says that we will default into the defined contribution versus our original pension plan, that creates instability.”

But, Rep. Bill Hager (R-Delray Beach) disagrees.

“I served a number of years with the American Academy of Actuaries,” he said. “I’ve had as many as 150 actuaries under my employ. Everything in this bill adds stability to our Retirement System, and nothing takes away stability in our system. This is good, public policy, and it’s good for our law enforcement professionals.”

Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando) took a different tack. He says he can’t believe anyone would be against a bill that includes death benefits for the surviving spouses of law enforcement.

During Wednesday’s House session, he reminded lawmakers that the bill stems from the former Orange County deputy Scott Pine who lost his life while on duty two years ago. Pine had chosen the investment plan, which doesn’t really provide benefits. And, Plasencia says Pine’s family has since been struggling.

“Deputy Pine’s family do not understand nor do they care about the political implications surrounding this bill. Default language means nothing to them,” he said. “They lost a husband, a father, and a best friend. Families across our state have made this same sacrifice. I implore all of us to consider the sacrifices that have been made by so many families, like the Pine’s, who are looking toward us to do the right thing.”

The House measure passed 72-38 with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

And, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says he’s hopeful the Senate will take up its pension reform package, too.

“So, we believe this bill is far more acceptable than things that we’ve sent over there in the past from the standpoint of being acceptable to the Senate, and I would hope that they’d look at it seriously and potentially take it up,” he said, speaking to reporters Tuesday.

But, the Senate recently voted unanimously on a standalone bill granting death benefits to surviving spouses. And, the Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate), says he hopes the House will not try to negotiate and take up the Senate bill, instead.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner .

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