2018 Legislative Report
The 2018 legislative session convened on January 8th and was expected by some to sine die by the end of March due to the desires of legislators to return to their districts in order to campaign for the upcoming elections. As predicted, the Legislature did sine die before April, calling it quits on March 28th, the eightieth day of the 2018 legislative session. There were a total of 561 bills introduced, with 353 of those becoming law. Both the length of the 2018 session and the number of bills enacted into law were fairly average for an Idaho legislative session.
Much of the IPEA’s efforts during the 2018 legislative session were simply information dissemination regarding changes in the executive director and lobbyist positions. Immediate meetings were held with key legislators, agency heads and other likeminded organizations with coalition building being the main focus. Other meetings, mostly with members of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee also took place in order to rally support for the IPEA and to put them on notice of some harmful legislation that could potentially come before their committees. A brief outline of germane bills and the end results of that legislation follows below.
House Bill 400
Computation of Service Retirement Allowance (59-1342) and Early Retirement Allowance (59-1346) are contained in two separate sections of Idaho code. Service Retirement Allowance contains two provisions that should also be included in Early Retirement Allowance and this bill combined that language in one section of code.
The IPEA took a neutral position on this legislation because it truly was internal housekeeping that needed to take place in order for PERSI for maximize its effectiveness. This bill did pass and will go into effect July 1st.
House Bill 401
Currently, Idaho Statute does not include a definition of “ineligible” or “termination from employment.” This amendment to code is to add those two definitions, as well as amend the definitions of “disability retirement allowance,” “early retirement allowance,” “inactive member,” “retirement,” and “separation benefit” to clarify the meaning of those terms. Historical practice of the agency has been to use the term “ineligible” to define members who are not eligible, under statute, to participate and/or contribute as an employee of a PERSI employer, not eligible to receive a retirement benefit, or not eligible to receive a separation benefit. The lack of a specific definition of members who are not eligible has allowed some to attempt an interpretation of the code that is not in line with the intent of the statute or with requirements of a qualified plan. In addressing the definition of “ineligible,” the phrase “termination from employment” is also used and needs to be defined in code to clarify its meaning for purposes of retirement.
IPEA took a neutral position on this bill because it is a clarification of the original legislative intent. This bill did pass and will take effect July 1st.
House Bill 427
The intended purpose of this legislation was to prohibit employees of public employee associations from adding new employees to PERSI. House bill 145 from the 2017 session revised the definition of an employer to prohibit the addition of any organizations which were out of compliance with internal revenue regulations. This piece of legislation would prohibit the organizations which were already in PERSI at the time House Bill 145 went into effect from adding any new employees. The stated purpose of this legislation was not to take any employees out of PERSI, but to prevent the addition of new employees going forward. The organizations which were to have been impacted by this were private associations representing the interests of limited groups. The intent was to ensure that the Public Employee Retirement System would be limited to use by public employees thereby ensuring the viability of the system in the future and protecting Idaho taxpayers from liability for the retirement of private organizations.
The IPEA is committed to protecting PERSI in its current state and opposed this legislation. While the intended purpose of this legislation is stated above, upon further inspection of the bill it was discovered that with the way the bill was written, not only would employees of associations be affected, but also all future employees of governmental entities, effectively eventually terminating the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho. Upon very productive meetings with the House Ways and Means Committee chairman and the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee chairman, it was decided that HB 427 would be held in committee for the 2018 legislative session. This was definitely a victory for the IPEA but in my discussions with the two chairmen it was revealed that this bill’s intent does have some support within the Idaho Legislature. It is the IPEA’s objective to preserve PERSI benefits as they currently exist and for these reasons future meetings will take place with the Director of PERSI, Don Drum, in the interim to ensure that the IPEA’S interests are protected and to establish the IPEA as a legitimate participant in any discussions that seek to change the current operations of PERSI.
Senate Bill 1308
The purpose of this bill was to set guidelines regarding cases brought under what is commonly referred to as the Whistle-Blower Act. In the 1970s, Idaho had sovereign immunity, which prevented persons from suing the government. The State and political subdivisions agreed to waive sovereign immunity, but the Legislature passed the Idaho Tort Claims Act in order to regulate claims against government. This bill sought to limit the Whistle-Blower Act by applying rules set by the Tort Claims Act to those claims brought under the Whistle-Blower Act.
The IPEA opposed this legislation on the grounds that it sought to erode the protections that have been granted to Idaho’s public employees. SB 1308 was proposed as a positive step in that it would prevent “run-away juries” from awarding exorbitant sums of money to plaintiffs and their attorneys. This argument gained enough favor among the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee members to vote in favor of printing the bill, but after meeting with the chairman of the committee, sufficient doubt was cast on this proposed legislation and it ultimately never received a full hearing. From the IPEA’s perspective the Whistle-Blower Act is crucial to limiting waste, fraud and abuse from within the departments and agencies essential to the daily functions of Idaho’s government. Since the adoption of the Whistle-Blower Act in 1994, it has been a stand-alone statute. The Idaho Tort Claims Act was put into place for the purpose of limiting the grounds on which the State of Idaho can be sued and by co-mingling these two statutes a clear erosion of crucial protections for public employees would occur. The Whistle-Blower Act exists to prevent waste, fraud and abuse and without its protections there would be no assurance that public employees could act in good faith by reporting wrongdoings without being retaliated against in the workplace.