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Texas House committee hears TRS sunset bill

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature

Date Posted: 3/25/2021 | Author: Monty Exter

The House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee (PIFS) heard House Bill (HB) 1585 by Rep. Stan Lambert (R-Abilene) this week. HB 1585 is the sunset bill for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas.  

As previously reported here on Teach the Vote, every state agency in Texas is subject to a periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission that is dependent on a “sunset” date set in law at the time the agency is created. The commission’s review, recommendations, and subsequent sunset bill for each agency addresses whether the agency should continue to exist and identifies any issues that may need to be fixed. Some agencies, including TRS, are created by the Texas Constitution and cannot be abolished; these agencies still undergo cyclical review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to determine ways they can improve and operate more efficiently. 

Many of the Sunset Commission’s recommendations for TRS can be implemented through agency action and without need for statutory changes to be made by the Texas Legislature. The rest of the recommendations are addressed in HB 1585, including the following:

  • Reducing the retire/rehire return-to-work penalty within the first 12 months after an educator’s retirement to a dollar-for-dollar offset. Currently those subject to the penalty lose the entirety of their monthly TRS annuity while the penalty applies. HB 1585 would the reduce the penalty to the lesser of the retiree’s annuity or the amount of the retiree’s salary with a school district or other TRS-eligible employer. This provision ensures a retiree will not be penalized in excess of what they have earned by inadvertently running afoul of the retire/rehire prohibition, while still protecting the soundness of the pension fund.   

  • Requiring the creation of enhanced TRS board training and a board training manual.

  • Adopting a policy requiring TRS to make all reasonable efforts to locate and notify a member or the member’s heirs of their entitlement to a return of accumulated contributions. 

  • Creating parity in the deadlines for filing appeals of TRS decisions. The bill would require TRS to reset or extend a member’s deadline to not less than the amount of time the agency has to respond to a member’s appeal of an adverse administrative decision.  

  • Adopting an enhanced communications policy designed to assist TRS members in planning for retirement. 

  • Opening member services branches outside of Austin to provide in-person retirement benefits counseling. 

  • Requiring the provision of additional information to members regarding TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare appeals, as well as a study and report on the two health care programs. 

Additionally, HB 1585 calls for creating a new TRS ombudsman position to serve active and retired members. Under the recommenations in the sunset bill, the ombudsman would do the following: 

  1. monitor the agency's interactions with TRS members; 
  2. receive and review complaints from members; 
  3. take appropriate action regarding complaints, including conducting investigations and escalating or reporting complaints to the TRS board; 
  4. inform a member and the board of the results of the ombudsman ’s review or investigation of a complaint; 
  5. recommend to the TRS board corrective actions deemed necessary to resolve complaints; and 
  6. regularly submit a report to the TRS board recommending changes to the retirement system’s operations that would benefit members and increase opportunities for members to participate in TRS decisions. 

The TRS sunset bill had no opposition when it was heard by the committee. ATPE, the Texas Retired Teachers Association, and the Texas Association of School Administrators all expressed support for HB 1585 at the hearing this week. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie and a member of the sunset commission staff also testified at Wednesday's hearing. The PIFS committee is likely to vote on the bill next week so that it can be considered soon by the full House. 

Tune in to Teach the Vote for continued updates on this bill and other significant education legislation throughout the 87th legislative session.  


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