Houston’s pension reform plan has cleared its second hurdle, passing the Texas House with 112 votes. After pushback from conservatives, bill author State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton) substituted his original bill for that of State Sen. Joan Huffman’s.
The differences between the versions of the bill shouldn’t go unnoticed.
With the introduction of Senate Bill 2190 in the House, Flynn gave in to a potential cash-balance plan conversion, voter obligation on pension obligation bonds, and a number of amendments tacked on by fellow representatives.
State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), a joint author of the original bill, laid out an amendment that, in theory, re-opens limited negotiations between the Houston Firefighter Retirement and Relief Fund and the City of Houston.
After negotiations broke down between the city and the firefighters last fall, Mayor Turner increased the original cuts to HFRRF and firefighters began adamantly opposing moving forward on the bill.
When HFRRF walked away from the table, they were facing just over $800 million in benefit cuts. In a punitive step to penalize them for rejecting the deal, Turner increased the cuts that firefighters would have to stomach to over $1 billion.
Huberty’s amendment gives HFRRF 5 days to provide their actuarial data in exchange for an opportunity to go back to the original terms of the deal ($802 million in benefit cuts). If they do not provide the census data in the five-day period, the modified cuts from the original version of the bill will go into effect.
The amendment didn’t come without opposition. House Democrats largely opposed it, along with Flynn and State Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), who is also a joint author of the bill.
“At this point it’s too late to change the critical aspect of this bill, the Greater Houston Partnership opposes this amendment…this is an attempt to derail this bill,” said Flynn.
However, their attempts failed and the Huberty amendment was adopted by a vote of 90 to 42 and garnered thunderous applause from the mass of firefighters that filled the House gallery.
Two other amendments were also adopted.
The first, authored by State Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy), clarifies the opt-out provision to include firefighters. The opt-out was added in the Senate and allows the unions to rescind all benefit changes if the city fails to deliver the promised $1 billion in pension obligation bonds. The previous language, according to Schofield, could have been interpreted to only apply to police and municipal employees.
Although both amendments were accepted by Flynn, he was visibly displeased by them leading observers to assume that he’ll attempt to remove them when the bill goes to a conference committee with the Texas Senate. Although the Senate has the option to concur with the amendments, in a press conference following the vote Turner said he spoke to Huffman who agreed she would not concur with the House’s version of the bill.
Turner also called the vote “historic” and a “tremendous evolution” from the status quo.
The final bill, with amendments included, passed the House 112 to 28.