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Week of February 15, 2010

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 February 18, 2010

Clarification on Retirement Bills
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Although committee meetings and floor debate during both the morning and afternoon included consideration of many bills, the focus of attention was the Senate debate of three bills which will change the benefits of public employees under the Utah Retirement Systems.

The Senate debated separately SB43 (first substitute): Post-retirement Employment Amendments, SB63 (first substitute): New Public Employees’ Tier II Contributory Retirement Act, and SB94: Supplemental Benefit Amendments for Noncontributory Public Employees before voting to pass each bill to the third reading calendar.

Sen. Dan Liljenquist presented each bill followed by questions and comments from many other Senators. Republican Senators praised and support the bills. Democratic Senators asked questions about the data presented to support the bills and expressed deep concern about the need for the changes and with most emphasis, the need to act quickly without further analysis and study. Educators should express thanks to them for not climbing on the express train to retirement reform. Sen. John Greiner, himself a public employee, raised relevant and specific questions about SB43 and SB94 and was the only member of the Republican caucus to vote against these two bills.

Some Senators have accused public employee groups, including UEA, of misinforming employees about what these bills would do. They seem to forget how complicated some of the changes are and that multiple amendments to the bills have been made in past weeks and continue to be made right up to and during debate of the bills.

SO, let’s be very clear on each of these bills…

SB43 (first substitute): Post-retirement Employment Amendments (effective July 1, 2010) makes changes for employees who are REHIRED into the state retirement system after retiring.

  1. Future rehires (rehired after July 1, 2010), could come back to employment within the state retirement system, BUT would have to suspend his/her pension benefit (applies to full time reemployment).
  2. The rehired employee would again earn service credit under the terms of the existing system.
  3. The contribution to a 401(k) account will be eliminated for future rehired employees.
  4. An expected amendment would allow employees working on a contract (such as teachers) to rehire up to Aug. 1, 2010, and still qualify under the existing system.
  5. For currently rehired employees, the percentage of salary contributed to the employee’s 401(k) will no longer be the same as the employer’s contribution rate but will be an amount called the “normal cost.” This rate is now approximately 12 percent, about 4 percent less than what the rate would be next year.

SB94: Supplemental Benefit Amendments for Noncontributory Public Employees (effective July 1, 2010) eliminates the employer 401(k) contribution (1.5% of salary) for all current state employees hired after July 1, 1986.

  1. Money saved would go into the General Fund.
  2. NOTE: Those employed prior to July 1, 1986, received this benefit as a “substantial substitute” for moving from the contributory to the non-contributory system. Eliminating it for these current employees would have legal implications.

SB63 (first substitute): New Public Employees’ Tier II Contributory Retirement Act (effective July 1, 2011) changes (and substantially reduces) retirement benefits for all public employees hired on or after July 1, 2011.

  1. The bill would eliminate the current retirement system for all new hires and replace it with a choice between a defined contribution plan and a greatly reduced hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan.
  2. The defined contribution option would place 8 percent of an employee’s salary in a self-directed investment, with a four-year vesting period.
  3. The hybrid option would initially place 5 percent of an employee’s salary in a defined benefit plan and 3 percent in a defined contribution plan.
  4. The hybrid option defined benefit would pay out a 1 percent of salary per year of service credit, as opposed to the 2 percent provide under the current system.
  5. The hybrid option would shift funding from the self-directed defined contribution plan to the defined benefit plan if investment results are not as expected in the defined benefit system. If costs exceed a total of 8 percent of employee salaries, the additional cost would be borne by participating employees, not the state as under the current system.

For a comparison of the current and proposed plans, click here.

February 17, 2010

Educators Share Experiences with Legislators
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

The UEA Legislative Team was energized today when more than 20 educators joined us for Educator Day on the Hill. Teachers from Northern Utah, Davis and Granite School Districts came to learn more about issues critical to education and educators and to talk with their elected Representatives and Senators. They shared with Legislators information about their schools and the good things happening with their students. They also talked about the proposed changes to the retirement system and the impact on the state’s future ability to attract and retain teachers. Knowledge is power and these educators left with much more knowledge about the issues, legislators’ positions on issues and how the legislative process works.

The Executive Appropriations Committee met in the late afternoon and into the evening. The recommendations for FY2011 public education funding were presented by Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee co-chairs Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Merlyn Newbold. Those recommendations are just as reported in a previous Update. Sen. Stephenson took time to emphasize the importance of funding the WPU and what the impact on regular classrooms will be if that is not done. Sen. Luz Robles asked a most important question. She wanted to know the comparison between public education funding in FY2009 and what is currently proposed for FY2011. The startling answer is a reduction of 22.8 percent if the proposed budget is adopted. We are optimistic that funding will be added as final budget allocations are made later in the session…but nothing is certain.

Here is what you can do:
1)   Call or e-mail Gov. Gary Herbert. Thank him for his budget recommendations for public ed, thank him for preserving education funding in this current year, ask him to “stay firm” in advocating to maintain public education funding in FY2011, and let him know you are working very hard to maximize learning and opportunity for your students. Be positive and give an example of the good things happening in your school or district. Let him know what resources you need to continue the good work
2)   Call or e-mail your Senators and Representatives. Share the same messages. Acknowledge times are very difficult, but remind them quality education is the most important economic development tool Utah has.


To send a letter to your legislator expressing concerns about the public education budget, click here.

As noted in yesterday’s update, the retirement bills will be debated during the Senate’s afternoon floor session on Thursday, Feb. 18.

February 16, 2010

Legislature Back to Work After Three-Day Hiatus
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

First, the Senate has scheduled a debate on the three retirement bills for 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18 (this is a change from the time originally posted). It’s not too late to contact your Senator about these bills.

To send a letter to your legislator expressing concerns about the retirement bills, click here.

The UEA Legislative Team continued discussions with House members about the three retirement bills all morning. Many legislators have been convinced these bills are necessary to save our state from financial insolvency in the long-term future. The groups of public employees working together in opposition to the bills have much good data that tells another side to the story. Your work to be well informed and to share your perspective with your legislators is critical. Be sure you understand the basics of each bill (SB43, SB63 and SB94) when contacting Senators and Representatives. One group working very actively in favor of the bills is the League of Cities and Towns.

Tuesday: Day 16. After all involved with the Legislative session had a very welcome three-day weekend, today began early and ended late.

A few bills being tracked by UEA were heard in morning committees including HJR20: Green Schools Joint Resolution sponsored by Rep. Mark Wheatley. The resolution encourages the State Board of Education and local school districts to use ‘green’ design and construction practices for new construction of schools and renovation projects. There are no mandates that this must be done, but the resolution’s intent is improved energy efficiency, improved healthiness of the school environment and long-term cost savings. UEA supports this resolution that now moves to the full House for consideration.

House floor time began at 10 a.m. HJR24, the ‘fast tracked’ resolution proposing a Constitutional change that would effectively eliminate Affirmative Action programs, was to be debated by the House at 10:15 a.m., but the sponsor did not proceed with the debate today. Proposed Constitutional changes require a two-thirds vote (50 votes). We will be watching to see how the sponsor proceeds with the bill.

In the Senate, SB77 (first substitute): District Association Leave Policies once again sat circled on the Third Reading calendar. Senator Hatch spoke to both houses today. That completes visits from all members of Utah’s Congressional delegation.

The House Education Committee met in the afternoon and heard five bills. First up was our own Rep. Laura Black who presented HB105: Public School Employee Auditory Protection. The concept for this bill was brought to Rep. Black by music teachers who have suffered hearing loss due to the continuous levels of noise in their classrooms. The bill would require local districts to set standards related to noise and would require certain educators be provided with a minimum level of hearing protection…fitted devices that allow the individual to hear sounds and speech clearly while muting the noise level. Rep. Black introduced her bill with a group of band students from West Jordan High School playing their percussion instruments. It was LOUD and produced laughs and acknowledgements all around. After extensive discussion and debate with questions of local control and whether this might be accomplished by administrative rule, the Committee voted against moving the bill forward…a disappointment to Rep. Black and educators who are at risk of hearing loss.

Rep. Christine Watkins presented HB246: Retirement Benefits for Charter School Employees. This bill would allow charter school employees who are hired by a public school district to buy their years of service at the charter school under certain conditions including 1) they must have been employed for at least four years in the charter school, and 2) they must relinquish any retirement benefit earned while at the charter school. For example, if the charter school provided a 401(k) program, they may use those funds to purchase years of service but cannot buy years and keep the 401(k) account. UEA supports this bill. It was passed out favorably by the Committee.

Rep. Kraig Powell presented HJR25: Joint Resolution Regarding School Fees and Supplies (see the posting for February 15, below). Substantial debate followed after which Rep. Powell requested that the bill sent to Interim Study.

The awaited new revenue numbers were delivered to legislators today (see the Salt Lake Tribune article). Revenue is projected to be mostly as expected. Revenue for the current fiscal year was very close to expectations and no further changes for FY2010 will be made beyond cuts determined earlier in the session. Revenue for FY2011 is approximately $50 million less than initially projected in Gov. Herbert’s budget. However, the Legislature held out $100M at the beginning of the session as a cushion. Now the real budgeting begins. The Executive Appropriations Committee met in the late afternoon to adopt the new revenue figures and to begin hearing appropriation subcommittee reports. Higher education was presented today. Public education will be presented tomorrow.

February 15, 2010

Ed Budget and Constitutional Changes Discussed
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Student Advancement Bill—
Thursday (Feb. 11) was day 14 of the 2010 Legislature. At the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Karen Morgan presented SB150: Reading Requirements for Student Advancement. This bill would require that students in grades 1-3 be retained if not reading at grade level at the end of the year. The Utah State Office of Education would set the standards for expected reading levels. The bill also requires that parents be notified by midyear if there is a possibility their student may be retained and the school provide focused remediation for the student.

Sen. Morgan has been a strong and persistent advocate for reading and has worked to provide resources to support reading instruction and for reduced class sizes in grades 1-3. Sen. Morgan has also provided exemptions in the bill that would allow a principal to reverse the decision to retain, would allow a student to demonstrate reading ability up to Aug. 15 in order to advance in the coming school year, and exempts a student with an IEP or 504 Plan.

After discussion, the bill was voted out favorably. It will next be considered by the full Senate. UEA believes the exemptions and flexibility given to the principal mitigate concerns about retention. We will be tracking the bill as it moves along in the legislative process.

Education Funding Recommendations—
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee held its final meeting prior to making funding recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee. There was a great deal of discussion with multiple motions to establish where cuts should be made and priorities for restoration should additional funds be made available for education.

Charged with cutting 5 percent across the board from public education, the Subcommittee adopted a plan that makes more severe cuts in some programs in order to spare others. Voted and board leeway guarantees, Educator Salary Adjustments and charter school replacement funds are among the areas where funding levels were maintained. Priorities to be funded if money is available include teacher-directed classroom supplies, adult education, library books and electronic resources, critical language/dual immersion programs, Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Program, I-See science education and regional service centers. Following these, any remaining dollars would be placed on the WPU.

Rep. Tim Cosgrove made a final motion, which was adopted unanimously, to request that Executive Appropriations fund increased enrollment and not cut 5 percent from the education budget.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, is the day new revenue figures will be released to legislators. Check in on Tuesday afternoon to get information about these projections and what they might mean for education funding.

House Ed. Meeting Cancelled—
On Friday (Feb. 12), the House Education Committee meeting scheduled for the morning was cancelled. This is the second day the committee cancelled its meeting…a surprise given the large number of education-related bills filed and not yet heard by committee. The committee will meet on Tuesday afternoon with four bills on the agenda.

Constitutional Revisions Considered—
The Utah Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), with members including legislators and attorneys, met to review HJR24: Joint Resolution on Equal Treatment by Government and HJR25: Joint Resolution Regarding School Fees and Supplies. HJR24, sponsored by Rep. Curt Oda, proposes to change the Utah Constitution in a way which would do away with Affirmative Action Programs. The promoters of the resolution are individuals who have worked on such changes in a number of states across the country. UEA is following this resolution because it could impact programs such as MENSA and Title IX. The Association has not taken a position on the resolution. We have to ask, ‘what’s up here?’ HJR24 did not appear until a day ago and then was heard in a standing committee, by the CRC and is on the House agenda for debate on Tuesday. Who is it that can fast track this resolution and why?

The CRC had little time for HJR25. Rep. Kraig Powell presented his resolution expressing his understanding that it may not be workable and may require further study, but expressing his desire to find a way to gain needed funding for public schools. The resolution would change Utah’s Constitution authorizing a requirement that elementary and secondary students provide their own school supplies or pay a fee for supplies. It would also authorize granting waivers in cases of financial hardship. It’s uncertain if Rep. Powell will move this resolution further this year. We commend his efforts in looking for funding sources even if this may not be a workable solution.

This type of resolution if passed by a two-thirds vote in each body is placed on the next general election ballot to be voted on by the people.

Senate Bill 77—
SB77 (first substitute): District Association Leave Policies remained on the Senate Third Reading board without action both Thursday and Friday. It was discussed during the Senate Republican caucus meeting on Thursday but remained circled. Stay tuned and stay in touch with your senators about this school district leave bill. Vote NO is the message.

To send a letter to your legislator opposing SB77, click here.