Things That Matter: Pension Reforms, Justice Reinvestment, and Honors Due

Senate Committees (Retirement and Appropriations/Budget) might wrap up work on new pension bills Wednesday or later this week. The pending reforms, both substantive and technical in nature, could advance several government retirement systems toward funding adequacy, building on the momentum of recent years. 

House Bills 2319 (police), 2320 (fire) and 2952 (the law enforcement retirement system, or OLARS, system for highway patrol troopers) are under consideration. A fourth measure, House Joint Resolution 1091, has not yet been assigned to the A&B committee. Three other measures making technical changes have already cleared the two panels. 

State Rep. Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City said Tuesday (April 3) there has been “positive discussion” on the three substantive statutory proposals, and is hopeful of positive action. 

H.B. 2319 increases employer and employee contributions for police participants in the retirement system. Revisions to the system’s funding stream from the insurance premium tax would, with no tax increase, bolster the system.

H.B. 2320 raises the regular pay-in for the system, and revises the firefighters’ retirement system to hold to 7.5 percent the rate of return from the Deferred Option Plan (DROP). 

H.B. 2952 increases government and employee contributions, and puts employees in the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System (OLERS) under the same rules as other public employees. 

The net effect of the envisioned changes will add to the historic shift toward funding sufficiency that began with pension reforms enacted in 2011. 

Not yet scheduled for a hearing in A&B is H.J.R. 1901. Rep. McDaniel told CapitolBeatOK, “Leaders are working hard to keep this measure alive. There are perhaps some misunderstandings about Section C. 

“Well-funded public pension systems have an attribute in common: the annual required contribution (ARC) is consistently paid. When the ARC is not funded, the unfunded liabilities grow, … making it more expensive to solve the problem.

“Section C of H.J.R. 1071 requires funding the ARC unless the costs are more than 100 percent of the certified budget. The specific exemption prevents unexpected expensive annual requirements. Moreover, even if the cost is less than 10 percent of the certified budget, a 60 percent super majority can override the requirement to fund the ARC.” 

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House Bill 3052, the “justice reinvestment” proposal co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman and Speaker of the House Kris Steele, cleared a Senate committee this morning (Thursday, April 3) and thereby advances to the floor. 

Senator Jonathan Nichols handled the bill for Bingman. Nichols revised the legislation to lift out revisions to the state’s 85 percent rule, which in current practice means many prisoners with good behavior wind up serving more than 90 percent of sentences before qualifying for “good time” credits.

The measure retains in other reforms in the original House Bill — a new state grant program to assist local law enforcement, mandated post-release supervision of convicted felons, start of work on regional “mental health beds” to allow law enforcement to divert individuals that do not belong in jails, use of intermediate revocation facilities to assure consequences for technical violations of probation, and other reforms.

The measure anticipates flattening the curve of incarceration growth a few percentage points below the anticipated 9 percent (and $260 million cost run-up), and using a large portion of savings to “reinvest” in to the measures “smart on crime” provisions. 

After Nichols gave an explanation of the bill and the revisions made to the House measure, members of the panel had no questions for the Norman Republican. H.B. 3052 then cleared the Judiciary Committee on a vote of 7-0. 

Soon after the bill advanced to the Senate floor, Speaker Steele reiterated his support for the amended bill. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, the Shawnee Republican said, “We’re one step closer to enacting the strongest, most pro-law enforcement public safety plan Oklahoma has had in recent history. It will chart a new, smarter course for how Oklahoma deals with crime.

“Police will get more resources, prisons will have the space to incapacitate dangerous criminals and offenders will be held more accountable while getting the services necessary to deter future offenses. I’d like to thank Pro Tem Bingman, Senator Nichols and the Senate Judiciary Committee for their commitment to increasing public safety by making better use of our state’s resources.”

Senator Bingman, in his comments, reflected, “Oklahoma needs a renewed plan to make our communities safer, one that is tough on crime and fiscally conservative.  We know our criminal justice system is on an unsustainable path.

“Today, the Senate advanced a common-sense, conservative plan to put more police officers on the streets, stop criminals from reoffending once they have completed prison sentences, and target taxpayer dollars using an effective approach to fighting crime.  Senator Nichols, a former Assistant District Attorney with a proven track record of effective crime fighting, should be applauded for his thoughtful work on this important piece of legislation.

“I would also like to commend House Speaker Kris Steele for his vision and tenacity to make Oklahoma a safer place for our families.  I urge my colleagues to support the passage of HB 3052 by the full Senate.”

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At their March 28 meeting, Oklahoma County Commissioners Willa Johnson and Brian Maughan, along with Kevin Jacobs (Commissioner Ray Vaughn’s chief deputy) passed Maughan’s resolution praising community leader Josephine Freede of Oklahoma City. 
Maughan’s resolution read:
“WHEREAS, Josephine Freede, known universally to her friends, family and community as Jose, came to America from her native England as the young bride of Dr. Henry Freede; and,

“WHEREAS, Jose soon became an American citizen and a proud adopted Oklahoman, dedicating her life to the betterment of our city and state; and,

“WHEREAS, Jose Freede has been at the center of virtually every worthwhile effort to make Oklahoma City a better place for all, including leadership of countless civic, social and community organizations; and,

“WHEREAS, Jose Freede’s generosity to her community has become legendary, including her gifts and endowments to the arts, to education and to many other charitable causes, resulting in her induction in 2003 into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame; and,

“WHEREAS, Jose Freede is celebrating her 85th birthday as one of Oklahoma’s leading citizens, reminding us all through the example of her well-lived life that what you give back matters most,

“NOW, THEREFORE, be in resolved that April 1, 2012, is hereby designated as Jose Freede Day in Oklahoma County in honor of all that this most distinguished citizen has given to our community.”

Freede’s first name “Josephine” is shortened as “Jose” (pronounced Jo-see). In addition to her tireless work on community project, she has been a strong advocate for independent, non-partisan journalism in the public interest.