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W.Va. Legislature’s Interim Committee on Pensions and Retirement sets priorities

By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement has set its priorities for future Interim sessions.

The Committee met on Sunday during the first day of the April Interim Session. In what served as an organizational meeting for the committee, the Sunday meeting began with a recap of bills passed during the recent Regular Session. 

Committee Counsel Phillip Childs provided the recap.

“We have 16 bills that we passed out of both the House (of Delegates) and the Senate,” Childs told the committee, before providing a brief summary of each piece of legislation.

Among the bills explained by Childs was HB 2026, which authorizes municipalities to allow police and firefighter PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) members to elect to transfer to PFRS (Police and Firefighter Retirement System) for a limited time. 

“This is known as the ‘Charlestown Bill,’” Childs said. “It was something that was allowed a few years back, but some of the municipalities had missed it.”

Further bills explained by Childs included HB 2283 and HB 2900, both relating to authorizations for certain expenditures of State Fire and Sheriffs Departments; and HB 3211, “relating to authorizing service credit for unused accrued annual sick-leave days.”

According to Childs, completed Senate legislation included SB 450, which defines medical examinations for disability purposes. 

“This (SB 450) predominantly allows for telehealth examinations to be authorized by the board,” Childs noted. 

Next before the committee was a review of SB 590, also known as the “Emergency Medical Services Retirement System Act.” SB 590 was passed by the Senate during the recent Regular Session, but did not pass the House of Delegates. An explanation was again provided by Childs.

“Two sessions ago we passed legislation that allowed newly-hired 911 operators to automatically be placed in the EMS retirement system if their employers elected to do so,” Childs said. “The amount of employers that elected to do so was lower than what was anticipated. So this bill would allow existing employees to [also] transfer over (to the EMS retirement system) if certain elections were made.”

In response to a question from Committee Chair Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, Childs stated that there are currently 51 counties in West Virginia that employ 911 operators, for an approximate total of 800 operators statewide who are enrolled in PERS as opposed to the EMS retirement system. 

Russell Emrich, deputy director of Kanawha County Metro 911 and vice-president of the W.Va. Enhanced 911 Council, then provided testimony, and advised the committee, “We have 30 (county-employers) of the 51 signed up, and we have more signing up every month.”

“The biggest hold up for those that have not is that they don’t want to treat their loyal, existing employees any worse than their new employees,” Emrich said. 

After reviewing SB 590, Nelson briefly mentioned several topics he and Co-chair Del. Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, intend to present to the committee during upcoming interim meetings. 

“First and foremost, one of the items we have looked at for a couple of meetings is social security elections of municipal members,” Nelson said. “That is ongoing. It is overseen by the auditor right now. We’ll get some updates on that as we move forward.”

Additional items mentioned by Nelson included the possible consolidation of retirement system investment managers utilized by municipalities, and the implementation of a “Tier Three” plan, “which would potentially incorporate all of these pension plans that deal with emergency personnel, corrections, and police.”

“We have 13 plans and eight or nine of them are directed toward emergency and correctional people, and they all have different components,” Nelson said. “It makes sense to look at this and consolidate some of them, so that will be on the table.”

Nelson then noted that HB 3280, which seeks to make retirement payments tax exempt, will also appear on the committee’s agenda in the near future. 

Del. Chris Pritt, R-Kanawha, then requested a tax bill of his design be considered by the committee. 

“A bill that I proposed last session and I would like this committee to consider is eliminating the taxation on social security for those families with income greater than $100,000,” Pritt said. “As of right now, we don’t tax anything under that. But one of the things I think we should be certainly considering is ways in which we can recruit high-income families to return to the State of West Virginia.”

Pritt stated that he believes taxing social security payments for those families with an income level above $100,000 per year is a “barrier” preventing those families from returning to the Mountain State. 

“I think this (removing the social security tax) would certainly be an economic development tool for our state,” Pritt added.

The Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement will next meet for the May Interim Session in Huntington. 

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