There is a lot of discussion these days about PERS reform legislation by the 2013 legislature. The legislators, however, point out that their ability to reform PERS is subject to approval of the Oregon Supreme Court. Today, all of the judges of the Oregon Supreme Court are PERS members. They are PERS members because the legislators made them join PERS, automatically, starting January 1, 1984. It just so happens, that most legislators are also PERS members today and when the judges were forced into PERS eighty-four of the ninety legislators were PERS members.
The judges’ PERS interest predisposes them to oppose any PERS reform that would impact their personal PERS benefits and judges get many of the same benefits that all Tier One and Tier Two PERS members get. They have a substantial conflict of interest and they have not allowed significant PERS reforms made by the people of Oregon, in 1994, nor by the legislature in 2005 to stand. The PERS legislators also have a financial conflict of interest and are predisposed to oppose PERS reform. Having the judges in PERS is perfect for the PERS legislators. They can propose PERS reform until the cows come home and then they can blame the lack of PERS reform on the judges. The PERS legislators know that any reforms they make will likely never be upheld by the judges.
The real problem with the legislators’ concern about the judges is that the judges are PERS members only because the PERS legislators made them PERS members and because the legislature allows the PERS judges to decide PERS cases. The Oregon Supreme Court has no constitutional right to decide PERS cases and it can do so only if the legislature or the people permit them to do so. In the public debate regarding the Supreme Court’s power over PERS reforms, no public figure has ever questioned the right of PERS judges to decide PERS cases. That is because most of those public figures are PERS members and the last thing they want to see is PERS reform.
The Oregon legislature has not even considered requiring PERS cases to be decided by impartial, non-PERS judges. HB 2451, however, gives them the opportunity to do that. If you want impartial judges to decide PERS cases and to restore fundamental fairness to all Oregonians look at HB 2451 and tell your legislators to do the same thing.