One step closer, though there are still issues to be worked out.
The Texas House gave early approval Monday to a bill that would reform Houston’s three problematic pension funds, which have caused financial woes and spurred political battles for years.
The 112-28 vote for Senate Bill 2190 came after lawmakers made some key changes to the bill, including a provision that could let the firefighter pension fund bear a smaller burden for shoring up billions in shortfalls.
But State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, who authored the House version of the bill, worried that the Senate may not like the changes.
“This is an amendment that could very well derail the bill,” Flynn said Monday from the House floor.
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, successfully got his House colleagues to amend the bill so that the firefighter pension fund has an opportunity to lower what its members give up in order to help close a large funding gap.
For months, city and state leaders have accused the firefighter pension fund of withholding actuarial data that would prove it could shore up its shortfall with fewer cuts to members’ benefit features. In the absence of such data, city leaders and state lawmakers put together SB 2190 and a House companion — authored by Flynn — that the firefighters opposed.
Keller said the retirement system wants to protect individual members’ information and has offered the city data under licensing agreements that included confidentiality provisions. He said he was surprised that became an issue on the House floor considering all firefighter salary information goes through City Hall.
“They know what each of us makes,” he said. “There’s nothing surprising in our data we hold.”
Huberty’s amendment will give the firefighter fund a deadline to provide the data to the city. It passed 90-42 over the objections of Flynn, who said the firefighter fund had months to help reach a compromise and that such a change could sink the bill when it goes back to the Senate.
“At this point it’s really too late to change the critical aspects of this bill,” Flynn said.
Flynn could have brought his House bill to the floor but chose instead to have a vote on the Senate version. I’m guessing he thought it might be easier to get it through, as if it had been passed unamended that would have been it. It will now go through a conference committee, so we’ll see what the final version says. At this point, I’d say it’s looking pretty good for passage, though it remains to be seen who will wind up being less happy about it than they were going in. The city’s press release is here, and the preliminary Chron story is here. I’ll link to the full story in an update.
UPDATE: Here is the full Chron story.