By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In a very brief meeting of the West Virginia Legislature’s House Committee on Pensions and Retirement on Tuesday, four bills, all relating to police and fire department pensions and funding, were advanced.
The first bill advanced, House Bill (HB) 2900, would allow “conditional re-employment of retired deputy sheriff’s in the Deputy Sheriff Retirement System (DSRS) and allow [them] to continue to receive their full retirement benefits.”
This bill was introduced on Jan. 23, though House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.
The conditional re-employment, according to the bill, stipulates that the retired deputy must not have originally retired due to certain disabilities and must be certified or eligible for re-certification.
Additionally, before the retiree may accept a county position for re-employment, the county sheriff must have five or fewer deputies and must have previously tried to fill vacant positions. The re-employment period of the retiree must not exceed 10 years and must cease once all vacant deputy positions have been filled, and the retired deputy “shall not again become a contributing member of the DSRS while performing services.”
The fiscal note attached to the bill states that there are currently only eight counties that meet the condition of having fewer than five deputies, but that number could change.
“The bill limits the number of Deputy Sheriff’s allowed to ‘double-dip’, therefore, there is no expected increase in the DSRS unfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) or the contribution requirements of DSRS at the time,” it states in the fiscal note.
“DSRS consists of county governments and does not cover any state employees,” the fiscal note summary reads. “For fiscal 2024, funding for DSRS is through member contributions of 8.50% of payroll and employer contributions of 16.00% of payroll. DSRS does not impact the costs or revenues of state government.”
The second bill advanced, HB 2283, would “clarify allowable expenditures for fire departments receiving distributions from the Municipal Pensions and Fire Protection Fund or the Fire Protection Fund.”
This bill was introduced this session by Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia. It was originally recommended for passage during the 2022 legislative session by the Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services.
The bill expands categories of “allowable expenditures” for volunteer and part-volunteer fire departments to include “purchase of land or the construction of new facilities,” as long as the “effectiveness and efficiency” of fire protection services is increased.
It allows for payment of internet and telephone bills, including work-related cell phones, and provides payment for the cost of immunizations “purchased through the state immunization program or lowest-cost provider” when “administration from local boards of health or other similar programs are unavailable.”
Lastly, it adds language to include insurance policies such as life insurance, not to exceed $20,000 for firefighters, “accident and sickness insurance premiums which may be offered to cover individual members of a volunteer or part-volunteer fire company,” or umbrella policies to “protect against loss or liability.”
The bill would allow for “state grant funds to be deposited into a state account” and transferred for “unrestricted use,” and would give departments 60 days “to transfer unrestricted funds from a restricted account.”
The next bill advanced was HB 2292, which would “reinstate a personal income tax adjustment to the gross income of certain retirees receiving pension from defined pension plans that terminated and are being paid a reduced maximum benefit guarantee” from the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
The adjustment would be “equal to the amount of pension income not received,” according to the fiscal note attached to the bill, and amount to a loss of $230,000 for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.
Lastly, the committee advanced HB 3148, which would “prohibit municipalities from using the conversion method of financing” for police officer and firefighter pension and relief funds.
If passed, this would go into effect on July 1, 2023. It would allow a municipality to “convert to either the optional method or optional-II method of financing.” The bill is similar to Senate Bill 447, which was introduced on Jan. 26.
Each of the four bills advanced are now on their way to the House Committee on Finance.