Monday, February 11, 2019

New website tool helps you 

advocate for public pensions

By Allen Jones, TEXPERS Communications Manager

Click to enlarge image.
The Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems has a new easy-to-use and powerful tool to help its members communicate with their legislators at the state and federal level.

TEXPERS Advocacy is a new website feature on the association’s website at that allows you to participate in pension-focused legislative advocacy campaigns and engage with public officials. Now, you can easily track pension legislation, find out the association’s stance on important issues, gain an in-depth insight into important topics, as well as look up your political leaders and directly communicate with them.

TEXPERS has contracted with VoterVoice, a government relations software company, to improve the way the association and its members engage with government. In establishing our new site tool, TEXPERS Advocacy, members have the power to influence their political leaders on the importance of securing retirement incomes for police officers, firefighters, municipal employees, and other dedicated public workers throughout the state.

Leaders of public pension systems, their active and retired stakeholders, as well as those who provide plans with supportive services, face a growing number of serious challenges posed by an increasingly uncertain, rapidly changing, complex and difficult policy and investment environment. As retirement security becomes one of the defining issues of the 21st century, it is important for public officials to receive accurate information regarding the impact any proposed legislation could have on the retirement benefits of their hard-working constituents.

Pension plan trustees and administrators are encouraged to visit the TEXPERS website, click on the “TEXPERS Advocacy” link at the top of the home page, and utilize this new tool now as Texas convenes its 86th legislative session. On the site, you can check for active grassroots advocacy campaigns lead by TEXPERS, sign up for e-mail and text message alerts, find legislation, view current key legislation impacting public pensions, and find politicians that represent you.

Through TEXPERS Advocacy campaigns, the association informs you of the impact of harmful or helpful pension legislation, provides you with contact information of your political leaders and helps you frame your message through email, phone calls, letters and social media for maximum influence. TEXPERS staff can use the tool to keep track of member interactions with political leaders and find out in which part of the state some extra grassroots advocacy may be needed.

The new tool also helps TEXPERS keep you better informed by providing new streamlined calls to action, the ability to better survey its members to gain a consensus on topics, create petitions, automatically maintain up-to-date bill information, and other messaging opportunities. The site also allows TEXPERS to keep a score card on legislators to help inform members how their political leaders are voting on retirement security for public employees.

The same tool can be utilized at the federal level, offering TEXPERS members a greater national voice in public employee retirement. Use the tool to look up national government leaders, learn more about federal pension legislation and find how to message public officials. TEXPERS Advocacy empowers its members to be more effective in their engagements with government and is accessible on computers, tablets and mobile phones.

TEXPERS members spend day at 

Capitol advocating for secure retirement

Staff Report

A Texas House aide reads a resolution honoring
TEXPERS for its 30th anniversary. 
Thirty-five Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems members met with legislators to discuss the benefits of providing secure retirements for public employees such as firefighters, police officers, and municipal workers during the association's Capitol visit day Jan. 23 in Austin. 

TEXPERS members discussed the economic benefits defined-benefit pensions provide local and state economies and shared personal accounts of why they value having the secure retirement benefits. During the Capitol visit, the state House and Senate passed resolutions recognizing TEXPERS for its 30 years of educational and legislative advocacy for the pension plans relied on by cities, counties and special districts for their public employees. You can read news release about the resolutions here.

The trip to the Capitol was part of a two-day program hosted by TEXPERS that also included a workshop held the day before to teach TEXPERS members to communicate effectively with public officials. Joe Gagen, an Austin attorney and grassroots advocacy expert, lead the workshop. Nearly 50 people, including TEXPERS members and staff, attended the training session to better understand the public policy making process and learn to communicate pension fund issues more effectively with legislators.

In addition to gaining new communication skills, TEXPERS’ legislative team discussed current issues facing defined benefit pensions in the state. TEXPERS gave workshop attendees talking points that could be used during the Capitol visits on day two of the program.

After the workshop on day one of the association’s Austin legislative advocacy trip, 11 legislators or their staff joined TEXPERS for a reception. TEXPERS thanks everyone who attended, spoke, and volunteered their time for the two-day event, titled “Strategies for the 86th Legislative Session: Communicate Effectively with Legislators.”

For those who missed the event, photos are available for viewing on TEXPERS’ Facebook page. Click here to view the photo album. A video of a reading of a resolution honoring TEXPERS for its 30th anniversary can be found here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Texas lobbyist offers insights on start of 86th Legislative Session

By Eddie Solis, Guest Columnist

The 86th Texas Legislature convened on Jan. 8 and will run 140 days, adjourning May 27; and it's already off to a busy start with the appointment of a new House speaker and bill filings. 

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer, will be working with a new House speaker this session. Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, was elected speaker on the first day of session. The speaker’s seat had been occupied by former representative Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, for the last five sessions.

Bonnen is an extremely smart and tactical House member who was first elected into the Texas House in 1997 at the age of 24. He has held critical chairmanship positions, most recently in the tax policy committee of Ways and Means and was also Speaker Pro Tem under Straus.

The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker have all established two main priorities this session, school finance and property tax reform. These issues are not new to the legislature and will take time, attention and resources to work on solutions to these areas of state policy.

Public pensions will certainly be discussed this session. However, the policy area may not need the attention it received last session as Dallas and Houston pensions were moving, and passed, reform efforts. The state pensions will have a priority in discussion as the legislature will be discussing funding for the Texas Employees Retirement System and the Texas Teachers Retirement System. TRS will also be needing to address costs related to its active and retired teacher health care plan.

This session, the House Committee on Pensions will be combined with the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services. Jurisdiction over public pensions was previously combined with investments and financial services during the 81st and 82nd sessions and a separate House Committee on Pensions had sole jurisdiction from the 83rd through the 85th sessions.

As of Jan. 15, neither House nor Senate committee membership has been assigned. The House has 29 freshmen with three House districts vacant for various reasons in Houston, San Antonio and El Paso. The Senate also has six freshman members, two of whom served in the House prior to winning their current Senate seats.

During the legislative interim, the House Pensions and Senate State Affairs committees released reports covering pensions. Each spotlighted the areas local and state pensions should continue working on with the House report recommending a look at funding for the Pension Review Board to allow a greater effort of intensive reviews as well as a recommendation to lower the amortization threshold that triggers a statutorily required Funding Soundness Restoration Plan. The current plan is triggered if a system’s amortization period exceeds 40 years over several actuarial valuations. The current Texas Pension Review Board guidelines have a target amortization period of 10-25 years but not to exceed 30.

At this point, a few bills have been filed that impact local pensions. Two of them were filed during the previous session, one proposing a constitutional amendment establishing the prohibition of state money funding local pension liability and another establishing new reporting requirements and review of pension investments. A couple of bills filed reference local pensions, but with no specific impact. Regarding the Constitutional amendment proposal, it is worth noting that an attorney general’s opinion in 2016 established that the state is not responsible for local pension liabilities if a municipality is unable to meet its financial obligations, something that has never happened in Texas.

Several bills have been filed addressing the state public pension systems – the ERS and the TRS – related to various aspects of those systems such as proposing cost of living adjustments, increasing the current 10 percent constitutional cap on contribution level, board composition and various funding and benefit proposals.

Additionally, as the session continues the Pension Review Board will also continue its responsibilities of bringing local plans before the board in the Funding Soundness Restoration Plan process that requires local plans to work with respective sponsoring entities given certain amortization triggers. The state review board will also be in the process of establishing its appropriation funding requests as well, as all state agencies do.

Note: Track pension-related legislation via TEXPERS’ new TEXPERS Advocacy website tool available at Or, click here to visit the site tool where you can enter your contact information to find out who represents you in the Texas legislature, join an email list to receive up-to-date news and information regarding public pension legislation, and be informed of how you can help be an advocate of secure retirement benefits for all public employees.

Eddie Solis
About the Author: 
Eddie Solis is a lobbyist with HillCo Partners, an Austin-based public and government affairs consulting firm contracted with TEXPERS.

Basic Trustee Training returns for TEXPERS' 30th Annual Conference in Austin

By Barbara Zlatnik, TEXPERS

TEXPERS opened registration for the 30th Annual Conference last week and had reintroduced Basic Trustee Training as a pre-conference program offering.

TEXPERS typically provides pre-conference training. It is set for Saturday, April 6 at the Hilton Austin. Anyone at funds interested in training my register.

The association stopped offering Basic Trustee Training at the conferences because TEXPERS weren’t getting enough students registered to make the program worthwhile. But at the October Basic Trustee Training class, more than 30 students attended, and the class was well received. Association members appear interested in additional basic training classes so its added to this year's Annual Conference as a training opportunity.

TEXPERS staff often hear that the BTT class is intensive for new trustees. As such, the association would like to ensure that its members know that it is acceptable, and encouraged, to retake all or part of the Basic Trustee Training class. TEXPERS will be offering Advanced Trustee Training as well. Both trainings meet the Continuing Education requirement under State Pension Review Board rules.

Funds with brand-new trustees/staff that have not met the PRB minimum training requirement for new trustees, they should consider if they wish to meet the requirement by taking the April 6 BTT class.

Funds that have trustees that have met the initial requirement but need or would like to take additional training, they should consider taking the Advanced Trustee Training class. The Advanced Trustee Training class content varies from year to year and even class to class.
Also, TEXPERS recently announced various registration fee changes. Read about it here:

Agendas for both Basic and Advanced Trustee Training will be posted soon. For additional details, email

About the Author:
Barbara Zlatnik is the associate director of programs and training at TEXPERS.

Members to advocate for TEXPERS during the 86th Texas Legislative Session 

By Barbara Zlatnik, TEXPERS

The Capitol building in Austin.
Forty-three TEXPERS members have registered for next week’s “Communicate Effectively with Legislators” workshop to be held Jan. 22 and 23 in Austin.

The Workshop begins on Tuesday at the DoubleTree Suites, located at 303 West 15th St., with a working lunch. A facilitated session follows, which covers best practices for Capitol visits, “what not to do” at legislative meetings, effectively giving legislative testimony as well as the basics of the law-making process and the environment in which public policy is made.  

Joe Gagen, legislative advocacy trainer, will conduct this program; he has conducted several workshops for TEXPERS in recent years. TEXPERS’ lobbying firm, HillCo, will review the association’s legislative agenda, any pension-related legislation currently filed this legislative session, as well as talking points for members with lawmakers. A reception will take place after the conclusion of the workshop. Legislators have been invited and the reception is sponsored by HillCo. 

Joe Gagen
Then, on Wednesday, attendees will have breakfast at the DoubleTree before walking over to the Capitol at 8 a.m. to attend pre-scheduled appointments with their representatives.   

In addition to meeting with legislators, TEXPERS members will participate in a recognition of TEXPERS’ 30th Anniversary on the floors of the House and Senate. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Dist. 28, will sponsor the House of Representative’s resolution commemorating TEXPERS along with U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Dist. 5. TEXPERS Board members will be introduced on the floor of the House at 10 a.m. and on the floor of the Senate at 11 am. Sally Velasquez, TEXPERS’ executive director, worked with State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, to draft the resolution, which he will introduce to the House. Then, State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, will introduce the resolution on the Senate floor.  

TEXPERS attendees will attend scheduled appointments throughout the day Wednesday before the event concludes. 

To learn more, contact TEXPERS at or call 713-622-8018. 

About the Author:
Barbara Zlatink is the associate director for programs and training at TEXPERS.