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Nevada Legislature: Bill to change PERS system referred to panel for review

Michelle Rindels
Associated Press

A Republican-backed bill that would significantly change the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System was referred Wednesday to another Assembly committee for further review of its financial impact.

The Assembly Government Affairs committee took a split vote that will send AB190 to the Ways and Means Committee without an endorsement, after system officials testified it would cost the state $800 million a year and raised a laundry list of questions about how it could implemented legally.

The bill drew scores of anxious government workers to the legislative building for the hearing.

“We’ll support the people in the state of Nevada no matter what. I guarantee it,” said Republican committee chair Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko. “We’re not going to let our people go unprotected.”

The measure, which is sponsored by Reno Republican Assemblyman Randy Kirner of Reno, would add to the retirement system a defined contribution option that would limit pension payouts based on how much money public employees contribute. The existing plan promises employees a specific payout upon retirement.

The bill aims to tackle an unfunded liability in the system that’s estimated to range from $13 billion to $40 billion.

But Public Employees’ Retirement System chief Tina Leiss said she had numerous concerns about the bill, including a portion that would circumvent the power of the system’s governing board and potentially violate the Nevada constitution. She said it might also pay out so little to employees that they would need to draw Social Security benefits, and that would require additional contributions from the state.

Kirner acknowledged that a portion of the bill was potentially unconstitutional, and he said he was open to removing that part. But he said the system’s $800 million annual price tag needed further review.

“We challenge that,” Kirner said.

“We have a difference of opinion with the executive officer on many fronts.”

Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores and other committee members opposed the move to push the bill to a different committee, saying it would set a bad precedent of punting on complex bills with unresolved policy questions.

Ellison said about the bill it needed to move along in the interest of time, but he said he wasn’t abdicating responsibility.

“If these (questions) aren’t going to be answered down in Ways and Means, I won’t support this bill on the floor,” Ellison said. “I want to make sure this is done right.”