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The Public Education Employees Health Insurance Board and the Alabama Teachers Retirement Board of Control discussed continued legislative interest in doing more for retirees during their meeting Wednesday.

Dave Wales, director of the Public Education Health Insurance Board, said in a presentation that changes at the federal level could result in retirees having to pay more themselves in the future.

Public Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey said he believes legislators and members need to be educated to create more money for members.

“But it’s hard to get people to understand that we’re spending more money, but nothing’s changing in their checks,” he said.

Messages were left Wednesday for Senate Finance and Tax Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and House Budget Committee Education Chairman Danny Garrett (R-Trussville).

Neah Scott, legal counsel for the Alabama Pension Fund, later told the Alabama Teachers Retirement Board of Control that there had been more interest in teacher retirement this year than in previous years.

“There was more talk about increasing pensions in this session than in the past ten years,” she said.

In her legislative update, Scott listed several goals and concrete draft legislation for pension benefits, including a Bill that could have increased benefits for pensioners. The bill was amended during the process and passed by both houses, but the differences were never resolved in the mediation committees. Disagreements among senators over how best to meet the needs of retirees led to a long filibuster debate in the Senate.

The Senate passed a replacement bill that also included budget and social spending, but the House of Representatives rejected this amendment and sent it to a mediation committee.

The sponsor, Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), said he plans to resubmit the bill next year in the same form as his original bill.

“Basically, it just means that if you give a cost-of-living increase to retired civil servants and skilled workers, you have to budget it as a line item every year so that the funds are available,” he said.

“There was also some money that went into the retiree fund in the budget that was ultimately cut because the bill didn’t pass,” Scott said. “So there was a lot of discussion and a lot of different ideas and things that were kind of thrown around.”

She also said that Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) has introduced a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry to look into the merger of public education employee health insurance and the Alabama State Employees Insurance Board.

When asked by a board member, Scott replied, “We are not pushing for consolidation.”

Albritton said in a phone call Wednesday that they were not pushing for consolidation either.

“But what I’m really and truly trying to figure out is why there’s such a difference between the two,” he said.

He said they wanted to explore a way to make the programs more equal.

“We’re going to convene this committee and look at the comparisons between PEEHIP and state employees, both the insurance plans and things like that, to find a method by which we can make sure that we maintain a level playing field for all of our people,” he said.

He said that during the discussions he had presented a bill that would have provided funding for an existing plan, but it was not passed.

“So in that respect we had no choice,” he said.

Albritton said he was not sure he agreed that there would be more discussion this year than in previous years.

“The difficulty is to ensure that there is not such a gap between the two that one cannibalizes the other,” he said.

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