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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - A view of the Arkansas State Capitol building, looking west.

The Legislature's public retirement committee will hold 11 meetings across the state this fall to educate members of the state government's retirement systems about the financial condition of each system and allow system directors to explain whether changes are needed, committee leaders said Friday.

"There has been a lot of questions and a lot of headaches and heartaches about things this last session," said Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, who is a co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.

"This is a way that we can go out and meet with the membership of the retirement systems, hear from them and also let the directors of each one of the systems ... to try to educate if there is a need for changes to the rules," he said during Friday's meeting.

The committee plans to hold morning and afternoon meetings stretched out between Sept. 5 and Nov. 6. The schedule is intended to make "it as easy as we can on our membership," Sample said.

Sample and co-chair Rep. Les Warren, R-Hot Springs, promised the meetings after bills proposed by the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System failed to clear the Legislature during this year's regular session.

Key lawmakers said this spring that system trustees hadn't sufficiently informed employees and retirees about the need for changes before filing their bills. Among the proposals was a bill to allow that system's trustees to set annual cost-of-living adjustments. Current law provides a compounded 3% adjustment annually.

Retirees from all the state government systems, fearful of what might be approved, packed the meetings of the retirement committee during this year's regular session.

The public employees retirement system is state government's second largest retirement system with more than $8 billion in investments and more than 75,000 working and retired members.

Sample said in April that "there was just so much misinformation during the session that people were worried about their benefits being cut."

Sample said he hopes the meetings will be well attended so that employees who rely on their retirement checks from the systems know more about what is going on with them.

The committee's other co-chairman, Rep. Les Warren, R-Hot Springs, said lawmakers have heard several comments from teachers about school employees being unable to attend the morning or afternoon sessions because they will be at work.

Committee leaders will check out the possibility of holding the last meeting in Little Rock in the evening to allow teachers to attend at least one session, he said.

After most of the bills proposed by the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System trustees to reduce their unfunded liabilities failed to clear the Legislature in this year's regular session, Sample and Warren said in April that they intended to conduct a statewide series of meetings to inform members of state government retirement systems about the condition of their systems and get their feedback.

After Friday's committee meeting, Duncan Baird, who started work as the public employees retirement system's director in April, said that he plans "on giving an update on the financial status of the system and the work we're doing to increase our educational outreach, member service and communications" at the fall sessions.

"I want to get ideas and feedback from our members on ways we can maintain and strengthen the system for the future. I expect members will want to discuss the changes that were previously proposed as well as new ideas for strengthening the system," he said.

State government's largest retirement system is the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, which has more than $17 billion in investments and more than 100,000 working and retired members.

After Friday's meeting, teacher system director Clint Rhoden said he's still in the very preliminary stages of preparing his statements for the statewide meetings.

Actuaries expect the system to be over 80% funded this fiscal year, the system reduced benefits to its members across the board in 2017 to address changes in actuarial assumptions, and some of these 2017 benefit reductions will not be completely phased in until 2023, he said.

"It is my opinion, given the strong funding level of ATRS, that no member benefits should be reduced until the 2017 adjustments have been completely phased in," Rhoden said.

In addition to the teacher and public employees retirement systems, state government's other retirement systems are the Arkansas State Police Retirement System, Arkansas Judicial Retirement System, Arkansas State Highway Employees Retirement System, and Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

According to Bureau of Legislative Research records, the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs will hold the following meetings as part of its series across the state:

• Sept. 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the University of Arkansas Hope- Texarkana's Hempstead Hall in Hope

• Sept. 6 at 9:30 a.m. at the Hot Springs Convention Center in Hot Springs

• Sept. 24 at 1:30 p.m. at Northwest Arkansas Community College's Shewmaker Center for Workforce Techonologies Walmart Auditorium in Bentonville

• Sept. 25 at 9:30 a.m. in Fort Smith at a site to be determined

• Oct. 1 at 1:30 p.m. at Arkansas State University's Cooper Alumni Center in Jonesboro

• Oct. 2 at 9:30 a.m. at Arkansas State University Mid-South's Magruder Hall in West Memphis

• Oct. 9 at 1:30 p.m. at University of Arkansas at Monticello's Fine Arts Center in Monticello

• Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's STEM Building in Pine Bluff

• Oct. 22 at 1:30 p.m. at Arkansas State University at Mountain Home in the Shield Building

• Oct. 23 at 9:30 a.m. at Lyon College Nucor Auditorium in the Lyon Building in Batesville

• Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. at the Multi-Agency Complex west of the state Capitol in Little Rock

Metro on 07/20/2019

Print Headline: Sessions set in fall for state workers

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