2023 Legislative Session Comes to an End

The 2023 Legislative Session ended on Monday, May 8. Lawmakers worked nearly non-stop (especially in the closing days). In the end, lawmakers debated 617 bills, 311 in the House and 306 in the Senate. Several of these bills were top priorities for Secure PERA. You can review all of the bills we followed plus our positions here.

SB23-056 is on its way to the Governor’s desk. The bill by Sen. Chris Kolker and Rep. Shannon Bird makes an additional $14.5 million direction distribution to PERA. This funding will help to chip away at PERA’s unfunded liability. The Governor has until June 7 to act on the bill (sign or veto). If no action is taken, the bill becomes law by default. Once it is law, the funding will transfer to PERA.

Earlier this session, legislators defeated HB23-1176 (in legislative speak, it was “postponed indefinitely”). The bill by Rep. Don Wilson would have require PERA to implement a DC plan for the School Division and allow anyone hired after Jan 1, 2024 to participate. Proponents said the bill was needed to help recruit new teachers and staff, especially to help recruit people to teaching from other professions. Secure PERA has long fought to maintain PERA as a defined benefit plan. While the State and Local divisions have defined contribution programs, the school division never has had one. Now with the added complication of the auto-adjust provision to keep PERA on track, any efforts to divert new employees out of the defined benefit program contributes to the unfunded liability for all participants. We were happy to see this bill defeated.

Unfortunately, HB23-1016, Temporary Tax Credit for Public Service Retirees, did not pass. This bill was intended to help provide a limited amount of relief to retirees who receive a public pension. High rates of inflation and small to no annual COLA increases have taken a big toll on retirees. However, advocates could not overcome the $120 million price tag for the bill in a very tight budget year. Despite Rep. Shannon Bird’s ongoing advocacy for the bill, the bill “died on the calendar” as it did not pass the House Appropriations Committee.

Several other bills related to PERA were also unsuccessful. Two bills focused on PERA’s investing strategies. HB23-1092 by Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, would have prohibited PERA from using environmental, social or governance (ESG) strategies to direct their funding. SB23-016, by Sen. Chris Hansen, focuses on the reduction of greenhouse gases and within the bill, requires PERA to include climate related risks in their annual Investment Stewardship Report.

Lawmakers also postponed a bill (SB23-104) to allow Denver Public Schools to reduce their employer contribution amount. While they are allowed to do this under the law that merged the former DPS retirement system into PERA, there was great concern about the impact of this reduction on the whole pension system. Lastly, a bill (HB23-1144) that would have put new limitations on how pension benefits are managed in divorce was also defeated.

Our 2023 endorsements for the PERA Board of Trustees

This month, PERA members will elect new representatives to the PERA Board of Trustees, the governing body of PERA. If you are a PERA member in a division with an election, you will receive ballot information in the mail from PERA. The deadline to vote is May 31, 2023.

For more information about the process, plus details about the candidates, visit PERA’s website.

As we do every year, Secure PERA shared questionnaires with candidates for the PERA Board and reviewed all questionnaires returned to us. We are excited to see high interest in serving on the PERA Board and dedication to protecting the long-term viability of the pension system. In reviewing the questionnaires, several candidates rose above the rest and earned our endorsement.

Local Division – Trina Ruhland

Trina Ruhland is a Deputy County Attorney in Boulder County. She was appointed last year to fill a vacancy on the PERA Board in the Local Division. In her time on the PERA Board, she has developed a passion for the work of PERA and the Board. In addition to her legal background, Ms. Ruhland has a background in data analysis, a degree in mathematics and a strong personal interest in retirement planning and investment. Under PERA rules, trustees who are appointed to fill a vacancy must run for election the year following their appointment.  We believe Ms. Ruhland deserves a full term as a Trustee.

From Ms. Ruhland’s Questionnaire: “Members expect–and need to know–that their retirement future with PERA is secure even through down markets and unpredictable and unprecedented times. First and foremost, PERA must maintain the highest level of service in investing and protecting members’ retirement and ensuring the financial stability of the PERA fund. Second, PERA needs to continue to develop effective and transparent communication with its ever-increasingly diverse membership.  However, this also offers PERA a big opportunity: with new technologies at our disposal and a culture change in how we communicate remotely, we may have more ability than ever to connect with and engage our membership.”

Retiree Division – Timothy O’Brien

Timothy O’Brien is a veteran member on the PERA Board. He has represented the Retiree Division since 2011 and previously served as an active member in the State Division from 1984-1995. Mr. O’Brien brings his accounting and audit expertise to the PERA Board. After retiring as the Colorado State Auditor in 1995, Mr. O’Brien continued working in non-PERA positions and currently serves as the Denver Auditor. We appreciate Mr. O’Brien’s commitment to serve on the Board and recommend him for another term.

From Mr. O’Brien’s Questionnaire: “All PERA Board Members are fiduciaries.  That means that we must act solely in the interest of the members and benefit recipients. We must act for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits and defraying reasonable expenses incurred in performing such duties required by state law.  I represent all active, inactive, and retired members of PERA.”

School Division – Eunice Botchway

Eunice Botchway is a special education teacher. She has also been endorsed by the Colorado Education Association. An educator for more than a decade, Ms. Botchway currently works in Aurora Public Schools and previously worked in the Cherry Creek School District. Ms. Botchway is dedicated to ensuring transparency and ensuring trust with the defined benefit system and ensuring the long-term solvency of PERA. We believe Ms. Botchway will be a strong addition to the PERA Board.

From. Ms. Botchway’s questionnaire: “The biggest challenge facing PERA in the coming years is the shortage of teachers, how to address the exit of educators, and how that may affect the PERA Funds. The most significant opportunity for the PERA board is to rally contributors to have a collaborative conversation while gathering ideas from members to help solve teacher shortages and any other issues that may be facing PERA.”