PERS board changes could become contentious between House and Senate

Feb 28, 2017

House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo).
Credit ND Legislature

A potential disagreement looms between the House and Senate over the budget bill for the Public Employees Retirement System.

The House made several changes to the make-up of the PERS board, and would make it a cabinet agency, giving the Governor appointment power for the agency director. It would also give the Legislature’s Employee Benefits Committee more oversight.

That issue boiled over two years ago, after the PERS board changed health insurance carriers. It led to a special session.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) said the Legislature needs to be back in control of the spending, and in control of the process.

"It shouldn't be an unelected board making those decisions," Carlson said. "That has always bothered me. I will always guard the Legislative branch and the duties we have, and those are to make laws and spend money. Anything that takes away from our authority, I will fight like crazy."

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) said he hasn’t yet gone through the legislation – and declined specific comment on it.

Although the House passed it, the Employee Benefits Committee overwhelmingly voted against it.

"I think the PERS board does a good job," said Sen. Dick Dever (R-Bismarck), a member of the Employee Benefitsb Committee, and one of two Legislators who are on the PERS board. "My biggest concern about making the shift to more Legislative control is the issue of fiduciary responsibility, and any mismanagement. What we're being told is that would shift to one person -- the Governor."

Democrats say they will try and get those ideas defeated in the Senate.

"When retirement systems have become not administered by the people who use them, the entire fund could be at risk," said Rep. Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo).

The PERS legislation will be heard in the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday (3-2-17) morning. (Brynhild Haugland Room, Capitol, 10:30 am)

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