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Bill increasing Ore. fire, police pensions, lowering retirement age advances in Legislature

Democrat-backed bill lowers maximum pension retirement age from 60 to 55


Members of Portland Fire & Rescue Station 2 leave a hotel after a medical call the morning of Mon., Jan. 1, 2024.

Dave Killen/TNS

By Carlos Fuentes

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon district attorneys, designated state employees who work in dangerous environments and police officers and firefighters could receive increased public employee retirement benefits under a Democrat-backed bill advancing in the Legislature.

A House committee on Thursday unanimously approved House Bill 4045, which would increase public pension benefits for frontline workers from 911 operators to police officers to state psychiatric hospital workers. The bill’s total cost to state and local employers, which could be substantial, was not disclosed.

The list of public employees who would benefit includes 911 operators, firefighters to law enforcement forensic scientists and evidence technicians. It would also decrease the maximum pension retirement age for police officers and firefighters from 60 to 55 for those who have worked in those roles for at least five years.

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If the bill were to pass, employers of such workers would need to raise their yearly contribution to workers’ pensions from 1.5% to 1.8% of their salaries, according to a staff report.

Rep. Dacia Grayber, a Portland Democrat and member of the state firefighters union, said, “I can’t express enough my gratitude at the bipartisan effort to put aside our politics and come together and work to uphold the folks that are tasked with upholding the very real public safety commitments to the rest of the state.”

The bill, approved by the House Committee On Emergency Management, General Government, and Veterans, would also reclassify the state’s 36 district attorneys for public pension purposes as police officers, which would lower the age at which they could retire and receive full pension benefits.

Advocates for the bill say it would help the state attract and retain workers in hazardous positions. Unions expressed overwhelming support on Tuesday.

“Performing dental care in a psychiatric hospital, to patients that are mentally unstable has been one of the most stressful and difficult jobs I’ve worked,” Rosaleen Kosydar, a dental assistant at the Oregon State Hospital, wrote in written testimony. “Let (state hospital) workers know their services are greatly appreciated by improving the retirement benefits.”

The committee was not provided with an estimate for the bill’s total cost. Grayber told The Oregonian /OregonLive that she expects the cost would be relatively minimal.

The Oregon Public Employee Retirement System is operating at a massive deficit, with employers not paying enough to cover the cost of their employees’ pensions. The state fund’s deficit grew by $8 billion in 2022 and ended that year with a $28 billion unfunded liability to meet its projected pension obligations.

Opponents of House Bill 4045 say it would add to that deficit and also put too much financial pressure on county and local governments. “Counties are already operating on thin budget margins and each incremental cost increase creates unsustainable budgetary requirements,” Jen Lewis-Goff, legislative affairs manager for the Oregon Association of Counties , wrote in written testimony.

The bill now heads to the budget-writing Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

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