The Legislators And PERS, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

UPDATE: HB 2113 passes in Senate by vote of 30 to 0 on June 29, 2011.  It had previously passsed in the House by vote of 56 to 4.

HB 2113 changes the law governing how Oregon legislators can join PERS, by virtue of their status as legislators.  Under the current law, legislators can join PERS only if they send written notice to PERS that they want to join, within 30 days of taking office.  That is the same general rule for every elected official in Oregon.  They become PERS members, only if the choose to become PERS members.  The only exception to that general rule is for judges.  Judges become PERS members automatically, the millisecond after they take office.   And that’s a New York millisecond.

HB 2113, which was introduced at the request of Governor Kitzhaber, changes the rules governing how legislators become PERS members and it is speeding towards enactment in the final days of the regular session of Oregon’s 76th Legislative Assembly.  HB 2113 has good provisions, it has bad provisions and it has down right ugly provisions.

The good provision is that legislators who are  active, inactive or retired PERS members and who joined PERS before August 29, 2003 have the right to not join PERS as a legislative member.  That is good.  HB 2113 also carries over the existing provision that a person who is elected or appointed to the legislature and who is not a PERS member, does not have to join PERS.

The bad provision is that person who became a PERS member on or after August 29, 2003 and who then become a legislator must continue to be a PERS member as a legislator.  They can not get out of PERS they way they could if they had joined PERS just one day earlier.  That’s bad because it insures that, as time goes by, anyone who is a PERS member before becoming a legislator will remain a PERS member after joining the legislature.

The down right ugly provision in HB 2113 changes the rule that now requires new legislators who want to join PERS to notify PERS that they want to join.  They get into PERS only because they want to.  Under the new provision, a legislator would have notify PERS that he or she did not want to join PERS within 30 days of taking office.  Otherwise, the legislator automatically becomes a PERS member.  This provision is ugly because it causes anyone who misses the 30 day window to elect out of PERS to automatically become a PERS member.  And since that person would become a PERS after August 29, 2003, they can never get out of PERS.

If HB 2113 does pass, it will be important to make sure new legislators know that unless they notify PERS that they do not want to join  within 30 days of taking office, they  will automatically become PERS members and their objectivity regarding PERS will be gone.

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About Dan Re

I am an attorney who has lived in Bend and practiced law since 1981. In educating myself about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), I was shocked at how the PERS laws were changed by the legislature, once legislators were allowed to join PERS in 1971, 26 years after PERS was first created. Those changes personally benefitted the legislators who made them at the direct financial expense of the people they were elected to represent. That is wrong and I intend to change it. In 2009, I started a non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation, In RE The People, Inc., for the purpose of informing concerned citizens of what happened regarding PERS and other issues of social and civic importance. I then created this blog to further that objective.
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