House Tacks on Amendments to Pension Legislation

Conference Committee to Hammer Out Houston Pension Bills

Legislation aimed at fixing underfunded public pension plans in Houston is headed to a conference committee to resolve differences between House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the measure. 

(Pictured: A bill authored by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, to fix underfunding of pensions in Houston was replaced with a Senate bill during a House vote May 9.)

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2190 May 1, and the House gave its approval of the bill May 9 instead of a House version of the bill authored by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton. The House, however, made several amendments including three that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says are “unacceptable,” according to a May 10 Tweet by KHOU 11 News reporter Adam Bennet. According to Bennet, Turner said the Senate bill's author, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, will not concur with the changes.

Bennet's Tweet, however, indicates that Turner expects the bill to be worked out by a conference committee and finalized within two weeks. A conference committee is a joint committee created to resolves differences between House-passed and Senate-passed versions of legislation.

If a conference committee version of the bill is approved, SB 2190 would cut some retiree benefit features, increase some employee contributions to funds, and infuse the police and municipal employee funds with $1 billion, which the city plans to finance through bonds. The House issued its final approval of SB 2190 May 9 with 1 115-29 vote. Among the changes, the House made to the bill is a provision that would allow Houston's firefighter pension fund take on a smaller burden to shore up billions in shortfalls, according to a May 8 Texas Tribune article.

Among the provisions, the House added to the Senate bill is a requirement that future employees move to a different kind of retirement system if the current funds' shortfalls exceed certain thresholds in the future. The House also approved an amendment by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, that gives the firefighter pension fund an opportunity to lower what its members give up to help close a funding gap. Houston firefighters have opposed the bill stating that it was having to take much of the burden on behalf of the police and city employee funds.

Huberty's amendment did not receive a blessing from Flynn, who expressed frustration that the firefighter fund was given an opportunity to reach a compromise. Despite Flynn's misgivings that the change could void the bill when it goes back to the Senate, the House passed the amendment with a 90-42 vote.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, prevents changes from impacting current retirees. Rep. Mike Scholfield, R-Katy, also amended the bill to quash benefit cuts the pension funds agreed to if Houston voters don't sign off on a plan to infuse the police and municipal retirement funds with $1 billion in pension obligation bonds.

Although Flynn opposed Scholfiled's amendment, he allowed it to be added onto the bill.

“I'm going to go ahead and accept it at this time, and we'll deal with it later,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune report.


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