WRS News Online

Tarna Hunter
Tarna Hunter

Legislative Update

by Tarna Hunter, ETF Government Relations Directo

The Wisconsin Legislature is expected to wrap up the 2017-2018 session in late February or early March. The following is the latest legislation or legislative actions affecting the benefit programs administered by the Department of Employee Trust Funds.

Assembly Bill 676

On January 9 the Assembly on Corrections held a hearing on AB676, which classifies county jailers as Protective category participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System without a requirement that their principal duties involve active law enforcement. Currently, approximately 20 counties classify their jailers as Protectives, while the remainder of the counties classify their jailers as General category employees. Historically, the state has recognized that Protective occupation employees are exposed to a high degree of danger and have protected them by providing them an earlier retirement age, a higher retirement benefit, and duty disability insurance benefits.

The bill would essentially require county jailers who are currently employed by a county that does not classify county jailers as Protective participants and who become Protective participants under this bill to pay the employer share on the higher WRS contribution, as well as the duty disability premium, which is currently an employer cost. If the employee does not wish to pay the additional cost of being a Protective, the bill allows them at the time of hire to make the irrevocable choice to be classified as a general employee. The proposed legislation also provides that county employers who currently classify their jailers as Protectives can continue to pay the employer cost for current and future employees.

ETF's remarks in testimony before the Committee focused on the bill's departure from current policy regarding Protective participants and potential consequences. Providing Protective employees increased benefits is a recognition that these jobs are dangerous and critical to maintaining public safety, and that those who perform these jobs may not be able to perform them for as long as non-protective employees. This bill changes that policy — it recognizes that jailers should be classified as Protective, but require the employee, and not society in general, to pay for these extra protections. The testimony can be found here.

Audit of Group Insurance Program

On December 20 the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit of the Group Insurance Board, ETF and the State Group Health Insurance Program, which the Legislative Audit Bureau aims to complete before the Legislature starts work on the next biennial budget. The Legislature included a similar provision in the 2017-19 budget, but the language was vetoed.