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As Weatherford's pension bill stalls, concerns of blowback grow

It’s the “other” pension bill this session.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, thought he was sponsoring one of the most important bills this session, one that would address what he called a crisis with municipal and county pensions. Of the nearly 500 pensions, more than half were troubled, he said.

For years, the Florida League of Cities has been pushing a fix that would allow cities more revenue from insurance premium taxes now being used for extra pension benefits for police and firefighters. Ring and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, sponsored SB 458 that they said would give cities more flexibility in how they use those revenues to help pay down pension debt.

Their bill passed the Senate last week with wide bipartisan support. It was sent over to the House on Tuesday, where it has sat ever since. Meanwhile, the companion bill, HB 1399, has been stranded at the House Appropriations Committee since April 5.

On Thursday, Ring said he was growing frustrated by the inaction.

“I thought the House would have taken our bill and moved it by now,” Ring said. “This bill addresses a crisis, and I just hope it doesn’t get tied to what’s happening on the FRS bill.”

Ring is referring to the clash between two other pension bills. Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is championing HB 7011, which would require new state, teacher, county and university hires after Jan. 1, 2014 to enroll in investment plans rather than the state’s current pension. Meanwhile, SB 1392, sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, would remove the requirement, but still encourage workers to enroll in investment plans.

Though union groups oppose both, Weatherford said this week he wants the Senate to vote his bill. Simpson said the two chambers were far apart on the issue.

Ring, who chaired the committee that was the first stop for Simpson’s bill (which has yet to be passed by the Senate), said it’s not likely the Senate will end up supporting Weatherford’s bill.

“Right now, the sense I get is the House bill can’t get passed in the Senate,” Ring said. “And the Senate bill can’t get passed in the House.”

And that stalemate could prevent his bill from passing the House, Ring said.

“I’m concerned about it,” he said. “I’m sure they’re discussing it at the highest levels of leadership.”