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2020 Legislative Focus

2020 Legislative HB1912/SB5829

Concerning pension benefits and contributions in the volunteer firefighters’ and reserve officers’ relief and pension system.

By T.J. Nedrow, WSFFA Legislative Chairman. tjn@wsffa.org
Tamara Warnke, Lobbyist

During the 2019 legislative session the WSFFA took the lead on advocating a pension improvement bill for volunteer firefighters. HB 1912/SB 5829 were well-crafted and strongly supported bills that appeared be sailing through the process, only to be derailed in the Senate by the actions of a few select Senators. The Governor’s signature would have to wait, as would the benefit increase for 11,000± volunteer firefighters that were the collateral damage to selfish political games.

**The WSFFA is grateful for the outstanding communications with legislators during the 2019 session**

Update-September 2019:
Currently, the WSFFA is working with select legislators and fire service partners to secure a successful end to the 2020 legislative session for the volunteer firefighters.

Brief Description:

  • The proposed legislation will increase the base pension benefits available to volunteer firefighters, reserve officers and workers in emergency medical service districts at the time of retirement and eliminates the current cap of twenty-five (25) pension payments.
  • Additionally, the proposed legislation would increase the current annual fee for pension enrollment and the mandatory disability (a.k.a. relief) coverage that is paid by fire departments to cover medical expenses for volunteers who may be injured while performing their duties.

Summary of proposed 2020 legislation: The bill would:

  • Increase the base pension by $50, from $300 a month to $350 which will affect current and future retirees. The increase will appear on the pension payment following the July 1, 2020 effective date;
  • Remove the cap of 25 pension payments. This benefit change has an effective date of January 1, 2022; members will not be able to purchase buybacks for years prior to the effective date;
  • Increase annual pension contribution rate from $60 to $90 with an effective date of July 1, 2020;
  • Increase annual disability rate from $30 to $50 with an effective date of July 1, 2020.
  • The pension contribution amount was last increased in 1992.

The link to the entire 2019 substitute House bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1912&Year=2019&Initiative=false (The Senate bill 5829 is identical)

Noteworthy:

  • The pension contribution amount was last increased in 1992.
  • The disability rate was last increased in 2005.
  • The pension plan exists to provide an incentive to keep members active for longer periods of time and to give the officers some leverage to keep them participating in training, duty shifts and responses.

Demographics of Washington’s Volunteer Firefighters, Reserve Officers, and Emergency (Medical) Workers (Ref. BVFFRO 2019)

  • There are approximately 11,000 volunteer firefighters and 65 emergency medical workers throughout the state.
  • There are approximately 190 reserve police officers throughout the state.
  • The average age of volunteer firefighter is 41-42 years old with the average total years of service at 10.8 years.
  • The annual fees for the reserve officers and the emergency medical services district volunteers will continue to be set on an annual basis by the Board of Volunteer Firefighters & Reserve Officers.

Next Steps:

  • Complete key meetings with key legislators, and fire service partners
  • Code reviser completes necessary amendments to the 2019 bills
  • Continue to work the bill ahead of the January 13th 60 day session
  • Continue communications with volunteers and partners via WSFFA website and FB postings
  • Continue to work collaboratively with the BVFFRO during the interim and throughout the 2020 session.
  • Facilitate necessary and relevant strategy meeting with stakeholders and other.

 

Direct Inquiries to: T.J. Nedrow, WSFFA Legislative Chairman. tjn@wsffa.org or Tamara Warnke, WSFFA Government Affairs Consultant tlrwarnke@gmail.com.

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