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House GOP signs off retirement changes

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The House on Thursday voted 74-41, along party lines, to advance a bill (SB 7022) that would make major changes in Florida's public retirement system.

Beginning in January, the bill would move newly hired public employees who do not actively choose to participate in the traditional pension plan into a 401(k)-type investment plan.

Currently, school district employees, county workers and state employees are automatically enrolled in the traditional pension plan if they don't make coverage decisions when they are hired.

The bill would also prohibit officials elected after July 1, 2018 from participating in the traditional pension plan. The newly elected state lawmakers, judges, Cabinet members, county commissioners and others would have to enroll in the investment plan.

Democrats argued the legislation would financially undermine the $149 billion state pension fund over the long term by reducing the number of public employees paying into the system.

"This bill will destabilize the Florida Retirement System," said Rep. Robert Ascencio, D-Miami.

Bill sponsor Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, defended the legislation, saying it would help short-term public employees who may not work a full eight years to qualify for the traditional pension benefits.

Workers in the investment plan, after one year, would be able to take their 3 percent annual contributions and investment returns with them when they leave public employment, Caldwell said.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it will become part of the negotiations on the 2017-18 state budget. In recent years, the Senate has rejected major changes in the state pension plan.