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Senate unveils first pension proposal: tough new limits for local government

Local governments in Florida would have to enroll new police, firefighters and other employees in a 401k-style defined contribution retirement plans and face tough new limits on retirement options for new hires beginning July 1 under Senate Bill 1128 filed late Tuesday by Sen. Jeremy Ring.

Ring, a Margate Democrat and chairman of the Senate Government Accountability Committee, filed the bill to both help local governments shore up their tottering employee retirement accounts as well as relieve the mounting financial obligation many cities have made to their retirees. A second bill requiring state, school and county employees to pay into the Florida Retirement System is expected out later this week.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, one of the most politically influential unions in Tallahassee, criticized Ring's bill as a "one size fits all" approach to a problem that was spawned when officials from dozens of Florida cities negotiated contracts during with union employees during the boom years and then failed to set aside the money to meet their obligations. 

"This legislation imposes an unfair mandate on local officers and firefighters without any regard to the collective bargaining process,'' said Matt Puckett, executive director of the PBA. "It is a one size fits all approach that provides a taxpayer funded bail out to fiscally irresponsible cities while being punitive to the police officersand firefighters who serve in every city.  The Legislature has no reason to intervene." 

Among the elements of Ring's bill:

* local plans would be required to enroll all new employees in 401k-style defined contribution retirement plans, shifting away from the traditional defined benefit plans that guarantee employees a fixed retirement income

* local plans must use at least 5 years to calculate an employee's average retirement compensation

* provides death benefit protections for the spouse and minor children of special risk employees killed in the line of duty

* revises provisions relating to benefits paid by cities that have their own pension plans;

* directs the Department of Financial Services to rate the financial strength of local government defined benefit plans and post it on its web site and submit a report to the governor and Legislature

* creates a Task Force on Public Employee Disability Presumptions