Both parties vote to back Ohio pension changes
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Bills aimed at shoring up Ohio's five public pension systems cleared their last significant legislative hurdle on Monday and are headed to final votes Wednesday.
After four years of debate and revision, the five bills tweaking eligibility requirements and the amount and timing of benefits for each system unanimously cleared the House Health & Aging Committee. A House subcommittee and a monitoring council cleared the bills earlier in the day.
House Health Chairman Lynn Wachtmann noted the orderly crowd and lack of witnesses as bill after bill cleared without discussion. "After three years of challenging times, four years anyway," he said, "what a crowd."
Ohio's pension funds — including two that are among the nation's largest — are in danger of becoming insolvent without adjustments.
Changes will affect some 1.7 million retirees and future retirees and their families who are covered by the five funds: Ohio Public Employee Retirement System, State Teachers Retirement System, School Employees Retirement System, Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund.
Both the House and Senate have scheduled floor votes Wednesday.
The Republican-led Senate fast-tracked the bills this spring at an event co-hosted by GOP Senate President Tom Niehaus and Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney. That chamber is expected to sign off on House changes Wednesday, said state Rep. Kirk Schuring, who chaired the pension subcommittee.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder had held the bills in committee over the summer as an analysis commissioned by the nonpartisan Ohio Retirement Study Council was completed. The review ultimately suggested a handful of changes but generally endorsed the bills.
Schuring attributed the bipartisan support to how the deliberations were handled. The final bills resulted from input from an array of interested parties, including fund executives, retirees, and employers — with many divisive elements scrapped for another day.
"I'm a big believer in process," Schuring said. "If you allow people to participate and weigh in and let their voice be heard, things like this can happen."