Capitol Views: Retirement contribution hike heads to House floor; 47-page amendment tacked onto 3-page bill

Capitol Views: Retirement contribution hike heads to House floor; 47-page amendment tacked onto 3-page bill

Nothing has gone fast and easy for the governor's controversial retirement agenda. One of its major bills inched forward today, with the proposed 2% increase in employees' payroll contribution clearing the House committee and now headed to the House floor. The increase would be phased in 0.5% at a time over a two-year span beginning in July 2014.

Like other retirement bills, Senate Bill 52 has slowed to a crawl, having taken a full month on the Senate floor calendar and several rewrites before it passed, 23-12, on Monday.

Supporters and opponents made the same arguments put forward on this and other bills that change the rules for current employees.

"It doesn't matter whose fault it was," said author Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, of the state's $18.9 billion unfunded accrued liability. "The problem is here today. We are here today."

"This bill just doesn't break contracts; it breaks promises made to thousands of employees," said Cindy Rougeou, director of LASERS.

Said governor's counsel Liz Murrill, "This is not a tax. It is deferred comp."

Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, responded, "This is not deferred comp. It is a payment on past debt."

Opponents roundly predicted this bill and others affecting retirement age and final annual compensation would be overturned in court. Jones counted seven areas ripe for constitutional challenge. Other Democrats criticized the bill, but Jones' was the only dissenting vote in its 10-1 approval.

—The contribution increase bill was followed by another familiar scenario with retirement bills: the introduction of a 47-page amendment onto a three-page bill. SB 6 by Guillory would be changed from a reporting bill to the merger of School Employees Retirement System into Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.

The substance of the new bill is the same as House Bill 1198, which has been sitting on the House calendar for a month. Governor's aide Rena Thomas said the decision was made at this point in the session to amend the Senate bill instead going with the original House bill.

When Jones tried and failed to have the amendment tabled, he walked out of the meeting, causing it to lose its quorum and for Chairman Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, to call a recess.

When the committee returned, representatives of the system complained that none of its 26,000 members, including bus drivers and janitors, could come to testify on the short notice.

"I think the good faith of the people of this state has been breached here," said Mary Patricia Ray of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

SB 6 passed as amended.

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