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Legislative pensions panel to hold hearing in Bemidji

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The legislative panel that oversees Minnesota's public employee pension plans will hold a hearing this week in Bemidji.

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement will hold its regular meeting Wednesday in Bemidji and then will take public comments and testimony on public pension issues.

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Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, a member of the panel, said she requested it meet in the Senate 4 district because of the large number of public workers and state retirees in the area.

"We have these meetings anyway to look at different topics over the interim, but I thought it would be nice if we could also have an overview of the status and health of our state pension funds for people outstate, since it's hard for a lot of people to get down to the Capitol," Olson said in a recent interview.

The 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. committee meeting will be held at Bemidji City Hall in the council chambers. The meeting will also televised over cable television.

The Bemidji hearing will be the first time in many years the LCPR has met outside of the State Capitol, Olson said.

"It may also be reassuring," Olson said of having local retirees know more about their pension funds. "Not that we don't have issues because of the economy like everyone does, but they're not issues that anyone should panic over. Those funds are conservatively managed and we're going to make sure that state retirees can count on their pensions."

The teacher's pension fund is the state's largest public pension fund and the 2009 Legislature approved provisions to put additional money into that fund, Olson said, but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"There were two aspects of it," she said. "One had to do with an enhanced benefit, which some of us would have loved to do that for the teachers, but don't feel that this is really the time where we could afford to do that.

"The other part of it would have been just for shoring up the funding level of the overall retirement fund for teachers," Olson added. "If you delay doing that, it costs you more later so we really wanted to try to get on top of that this year, but the governor was not interested in doing that. None of that happened."

The LCPR is a joint agency of the Minnesota Legislature which reviews and makes recommendations to standing legislative committees on pending proposed public pension legislation, and provides oversight for Minnesota's system of more than 700 public employee pension plans.

It includes retirement plans for state and local government employees, police and firefighters, State Patrol officers, judges, legislators, military affairs personnel and public school teachers.

The LCPR hearing will open with official committee business, including approving previous minutes and hearing a legislative proposal sponsored by Olson to add a second retired member to the Teachers Retirement Account Board of Trustees.

The committee will then discuss numerous pension issues before the body before opening the meeting to public comments and questions from citizens in attendance.

Issues include general consideration by the panel of the treatment of public pension plan retirement benefits in marriage dissolution marital property divisions and of the definition of surviving spouse for public pension plan survivor benefits.

"This is an important opportunity for current and retired public employees in our region to learn more about their retirement accounts," said Olson. "Given the instability in the national and global financial markets, it is more important than ever for workers to understand how their pensions are performing and what they can expect in the future."

The panel alternates chairmanship between the House and the Senate, and is currently chaired by Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley.

People interested in learning more about the hearing should contact either the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement offices at 651-296-2750 or lcpr@lcpr.leg.mn, or Olson's office at 651-296-4913 or sen.mary.olson@senate.mn.

bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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