Last week, Sen. Eddie Lucio filed the Sunset bill for the Teacher Retirement System. TRS underwent a review during the past 1.5 years in which the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission analyzed agency operations and functions to identify areas in need of improvement. Recommendations from the resulting report, as approved by the Commission, are now included in SB 706.
Sunset bills are significant because (a) they represent a comprehensive consideration of the agency and can contain major changes, and (b) as bills with a broad focus they can become a vehicle for amendments beyond those recommended through the Sunset review. Such legislation is sometimes known as a “Christmas tree” when it is adorned with many amendments on the House or Senate floor.
Items of interest in SB 706 include:
- A change in the penalty for violations of return-to-work limitations. Under current law, TRS must withhold the retiree’s full monthly annuity. The bill would limit the penalty to the lesser of the retiree’s full monthly check or the amount of the compensation earned by the retiree that month.
- The creation of an “ombudsman” responsible for protecting and advocating for members, including monitoring TRS’s interactions with members, reviewing and responding to member complaints, and recommending corrective actions to the TRS board to resolve complaints.
- Improving the process by which TRS must make all reasonable efforts to locate a member, or if appropriate a deceased member’s heirs, to notify them of any entitlement to a return of accumulated contributions.
- A requirement that the TRS Board adopt an outreach plan to help members and their employers effective plan for retirements.
- A requirement that TRS provide benefit counseling in regions outside of Austin, and that members be allowed to choose whether to receive counseling in person or by phone.
SB 706 has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.