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#PayOurPolice: Bill to restore police pensions passes committee

A bill meant to restore Utah firefighters and police officers' retirement plans has passed through the House Committee with unanimous support. (Image: KSL Newsradio)

A bill meant to restore our police officers and firefighters’ retirement benefits, which were significantly cut in 2011, has passed through a House Committee with unanimous support.

Supporters of the bill believe that this is a strong sign that the bill stands a good chance of getting passed when it is formally presented to the House Floor.

In the process, however, the bill has undergone a few changes, and the President of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Tom Ross, is anticipating that some officers won’t be entirely pleased.

He spoke to KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic on Utah’s Capitol Hill to explain what’s changed and why he still believes this a great step forward.

Tom Ross Interview police pensions

A “Thank You” sticker intended to show support and gratitude for law enforcement officers. (Photo: Laura Seitz / Deseret News)

A good first step forward for police

For the most part, Ross was optimistic when he spoke to KSL. He waxed ecstatic about the bill’s win in the House Committee, telling Dave & Dujanovic: “That win last night – 10-0 in the House Government Committee – that was huge. So we’re excited.”

Ross, however, admitted that one challenge had plagued this bill every step along the way: the question of who was going to pay for it.

In its first hearing, before the Senate Committee, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore voiced concerns that the expense of the police retirement program shouldn’t fall on the State. But at the same time Cameron Diehl, Executive Director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, protested that it shouldn’t fall on the cities.

No one, in short, could agree on who ought to have to cover the costs, and so compromises have had to be made every step along the way.

The current plan, Ross says, is to have the State provide $4.4 million in funding in the first year and to cover the costs for the 30 percent of affected Public Safety employees that fall under their responsibilities.

Most of the rests of the costs would be covered by cities and counties – but not all of it. About 2 percent of their cost, Ross says, will have to be covered by the employees themselves through mandatory contributions taken from the paychecks.

Those mandatory retirement contributions, Ross admits, probably won’t be popular with the men and women in uniform.

“If you ask any employee if they would prefer not to pay for this, they would all say ‘yes,'” Ross says.

Another concern, he admits, is how the bill treats employees who joined the force between 2011 and 2019.

The new bill would let officers retire after 25 years and receive a pension equal the number of years they worked, starting from 2019, multiplied by 2. For any officer who joins the force next year or later, crunching those numbers will be easy: if they retire after 25 years, they’ll get 50 percent of their salary for life.

But for officers already on the force and already on the Tier II retirement system, the system isn’t going to be the same. For every year they worked between 2011 and 2019, they’ll only get 1.5 percent added to their retirement benefit — meaning, to put it simply, that they’ll be retiring with a little bit less than 50 percent.

That’s another clause that Ross believes is going to ruffle some feathers. Some officers are going to find themselves working toward a lighter retirement package than people who joined the force after them.

“It does create challenges,” Ross admits. “I wholeheartedly agree that this is something that we need to focus on, work with our stakeholders, and we need to repair. It should not stay this way.”

Still, Ross believes that the best thing police can do is get this bill passed and worry about improving the details later.

“This is the struggle. We either fight and fight and fight and wait until we get everything we want, … or we do it in stages,” Ross says.

He intends on letting the bill pass, monitoring how it affects police recruitment and retention, and then using the data to push for fairer salaries and retirement benefits for all of Utah’s Public Safety employees.

“Every year we delay this, the costs go up,” Ross says. “If this is what gets us moving forward – which, right now, we have the support of all sides – let’s do it.”

SB 129 is expected to be heard on the House Floor soon; Ross predicts it will receive a hearing next week. Stay tuned to KSL Newsradio for every update on the story as it develops.

More to the story

Dave & Dujanovic are calling on all of their listeners to sign the #PayOurPolice pledge to help this bill pass through the House.

If you missed Tom Ross’s interview with Dave & Dujanovic live on KSL Newsradio, you can still catch everything he had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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