Thursday, May 28, 2020

Governor's disaster declaration extension includes Open Meetings Act provisions; tips to safeguard public access


UPDATE 8/14/20 -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Aug. 8 issued a proclamation extending the state's Disaster Declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration includes all Texas counties and includes a provision that allows governmental bodies such as state and local pension boards to continue hosting remote meetings.

"Renewing this Disaster Declaration will provide communities with the resources they need to respond to COVID-19," Abbott stated in a news release. "I urge Texans to remain vigilant in our fight against this virus. Everyone must do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. We will overcome this challenge by working together." 

The state's disaster declaration includes Texas Open Meetings Act suspensions allowing governmental bodies to host public meetings remotely to reduce in-person meetings of large groups of people. 

Abbott initially issued the disaster declaration on March 13. On March 16, the governor granted the office of the attorney general's request for temporary suspension of certain open meeting statutes. The suspension allows for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies as long as they remain accessible to the public. 

      > LEARN MORE: Open Meeting Act suspensions

State and local public pension systems should be aware that this temporary suspension leaves significant open-meeting protections in place. According to the governor's March 16 news release:

  • Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or video conference meeting.
  • To hold a telephonic or video conference meeting, a governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and that includes an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting.
  • A governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or video conference meeting.

"As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, our top priority remains the health and safety of all Texans," Abbott stated in a news release announcing a previous extension of the Disaster Declaration. "By extending the disaster declaration, we are ensuring that Texas has the resources and capabilities in place to safely and strategically open the state while containing the spread of this virus. As we move forward in our response, I urge all Texans to continue following the health and safety guidelines laid out by the CDC and Texas' team of medical experts."

The History of Texas' COVID-19 Emergency Declaration

On March 13, the governor announced actions the state is taking to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVD-19 disease, including declaring a State of Disaster in all Texas counties.


The governor extended the March 13 declaration on April 12. 

The governor extended the April 12 declaration for another 30 days on May 12. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Spotlight on Texas Public Employees

By Allen Jones/TEXPERS Communications Manager

Public employees fill an essential role in our Texas communities. Law enforcement and firefighters protect lives and property. Municipal workers repair our streets, maintain parks, assist library patrons, and ensure that our water is safe to drink. Educators help our children grow into adulthood.


Those are just a few examples of the critical jobs public employees do for us. Some jobs are dangerous. Others receive little thanks. Many involve backbreaking work. But most are done with a dedication to the greater good that's often unmatched in the private sector.


Each month, TEXPERS invites you to check out some stories of Texas public employees helping their communities:

Off-duty Rescue

A Lubbock police officer was returning home from his off-duty security job at his church on May 10 when he noticed smoke and flames were coming from the windows and vents of his neighbor’s home. A witness outside the home told officer J.R. Wood that an elderly woman was inside the house. Even though 911 had already been called, Wood ran inside the home and brought the woman out safely. According to a post describing the incident on the police department’s Facebook page, the officer also helped his neighbor contact family and helped block the road the local fire department worked to put the fire out.

Outstanding Educator


Morgan Castillo, a Woodgate Intermediate School teacher in the Midway Independent School District, recently received a Teaching Leadership award during H-E-B's Excellence in Education Awards. The award recognizes teachers with 10 to 20 years experience in the classroom. Castillo was the elementary category winner for North Texas. Grocery chain H-E-B announced Castillo among its 40 recipients from across the state. The finalists were announced in a virtual ceremony on May 6. Castillo is to receive a $10,000 check for her and a $10,000 grant for her school. In April, she also participated in a parade hosted by the school district. She road on top of a car dressed as Ms. Frizzle, a character on "The Magic School Bus," a popular book and TV series. In a Twitter post, she stated that she "can't imagine any other profession I'd rather be in."


Drainpipe Puppy

Atascocita firefighters lassoed and rescued a puppy trapped in a sewer pipe on May 1. It took the firefighters an hour to save the puppy that had fallen down an exposed pipe. According to officials, the puppy fell about 7 feet down before stopping in the piping’s curve. The department posted photos of the rescue on its Twitter page.



About the Author:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

PRB Committee Meeting Held May 7

By Joe Gimenez/Contributing Writer

The staff of the Texas Pension Review Board is developing new guidelines that would require systems and their sponsors to move more quickly to identify actuarial problems and then develop Funding Soundness Restoration Plans to correct them.

During a May 7 meeting, the actuarial committee of the Board asked staff to develop the new guidelines as well as suggest tighter legislative triggers requiring Funding Soundness Restoration Plans, or FSRPs. Both changes may wind up as recommendations to the 2021 Texas Legislature. 

> Listen to the Meeting: Recording of PRB's actuarial committee meeting held May 7.
> Additional Resources: Actuarial committee meeting packet for May 7.

“Conceivably a [pension] system could take up to six years ... between [an actuarial] valuation that identifies that they are not meeting minimum standards and the time they are actually required to submit a FSRP,” said Keith Brainard, the actuarial committee chairman. “You could fall into bad actuarial shape and have no requirement to identify a [FSRP] for several years, during which time things could get even worse.”

The Pension Review Board is the state agency mandated to oversee all Texas public retirement systems, both state and local, regarding their actuarial soundness and compliance with state law. FSRPs require pension systems and their sponsors to come up with contribution rates that reduce their unfunded liabilities below 40 years, after 10 years of implementation.

During the recent meeting, Brainard and committee members discussed the effects of lowering the FSRP amortization threshold to 25 or 30 years, substantially below the current legislative trigger of 40 years.

If a reduction to 25 years were implemented today, 27 more pension funds would be required to develop FSRPs. Currently, 17 pension systems are subject to or at risk of needing FSRPs, and six others have previously formulated FSRPs. So 48, or nearly half, of the Texas state and local pension systems monitored by the PRB would be in some stage of a FSRP process under the proposed guidelines.

The entire Board will review staff recommendations at its June 30 meeting, when it can either adopt staff options or send them back to committee for more work. Ultimately though, the committee put these issues on the runway for recommended legislation.

“We will undoubtedly see the results of today’s discussion rolled into the biannual report, which the PRB provides to the Legislature ahead of every session,” said Art Alfaro, executive director for the Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems, after the meeting. “The PRB seems to be taking the stance that city sponsors need to honor their pension commitments, which we agree with fully. But our experience is that lowering the bill – through pension benefit cuts – occurs more often than paying up.”

During the meeting, Brainard reacted strongly to an actuarial staff report showing 12 systems with 40-75 year amortization periods, and 13 systems with amortization periods of infinity.

“I think, honestly, the picture is abysmal, and that doesn’t even include the results of the last two months when we’ve experienced a market decline,” Brainard said. “The state and its political subdivisions are going to be experiencing a revenue decline ... If three-fourths of the plans in the state end up on a funding soundness restoration plan list, then so be it. The consideration is not the number of plans on this list. The consideration ought to be what is sound criteria for funding a pension plan.”

Brainard and the Pension Review Board have consistently noted that systems receiving adequate funding are in a better position to meet their long-term obligations. The PRB’s 2014 Study of the Financial Health of Texas Public Retirement Systems makes this point clear.

David Stacy, a TEXPERS board member and trustee for the Midland firefighters pension, attending the May 7 committee meeting and asked its members to consider that public plans need to develop realistic, sustainable ways for maintaining a “real” benefit for public employees. From a purely actuarial view, the easiest way to create sound plans would be to cut benefits, he said. While that might look good on paper, it is not in anyone’s best interests.

“I have serious reservations about the PRB making recommendations to the legislature on overall appropriate funding policy in Texas without engaging anything about a meaningful net benefit to the employee groups at the end of the day,” Stacy said.

Kelly Gottschalk, the executive director for Dallas’ police and firefighters’ pension, cautioned the committee about making too many possible adverse inferences from staff compilations of funding policies. She noted Dallas’ unique set of circumstances which came from the 2017 Legislature and how they are continuing to work through various processes established by that legislation.

> Joint Meeting: The PRB also hosted a joint meeting of the actuarial and investment committees on May 7.
> Additional Resources: Joint committees meeting packet for May 7.

About the Author: 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Office buildings to open May 18

by Allen Jones/TEXPERS Communications Manager

Click here to download the full report.
Texas' stay-at-home order expired April 30, and although not everything is back open for business, office buildings are allowed to reopen on May 18, according to the next set of reopening dates released by Gov. Greg Abbott's office.

During a May 5 press conference, Abbott said office buildings can reopen as part of a continuing effort to restart the state's economy. On April 27, the governor issued an executive order, GA-18, outlining the reopening of services. He also issued a document outlining a phased reopening of businesses in the state.

Public pension system administrators that decide to return to their offices on that date may want to start planning now as office tenants will need to be familiar with new minimum standard health guidelines intended to keep employees and visitors safe amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Be sure and check with local health departments for any additional safety requirements or reopening restrictions as some municipalities and counties have continued stay-at-home orders. Also, tenants may want to contact building management to find out what maintenance and cleaning plans are to meet health guidelines regarding COVID-19.

> ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Click here to read 3 Things to do Now to Get Ready for the Reopening of Your Pension Plan's Office to find out what a Texas-based labor attorney suggests doing to prepare. The article starts on page 20 of TEXPERS Pension Observer magazine. 

Under the state's plan, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow. The Governor also outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. Also announced is a statewide testing and tracing program developed by DSHS to help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who contract COVID-19 and mitigate further spread of the virus.

In the document, "Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas," Abbott says the state has shown it can continue its efforts to contain the new coronavirus, the respiratory illness that causes COVID-19, while "adhering to safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of opening this great state." Abbott is asking Texas residents "to act responsibly as we re-engage in the economy, to continue following all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for our vulnerable neighbors." 

"This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts," Abbott said in a news release announcing phase one of the plan to reopen businesses. "Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans' livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State."

What Pension Fund Administrators Can Do

The governor’s plan includes a checklist of minimum recommendations for all employers that public pension system administrators can follow to operate during the pandemic. The virus is still circulating in communities, and the document warns that those 65 years old and older as well as those who have underlying health issues like heart conditions, diabetes, cancers or weakened immune systems, are the most vulnerable.

Because the virus that causes COVID-19 can easily spread to others by infected persons who have few to no symptoms, employers should enact health protocols such as instructing employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette. 

Health Protocols for Employers

  • Train employees on cleaning, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette
  • Screen employees for coronavirus symptoms
  • Send home any employee with symptoms, and do not let them return until:
    • Three days have passed since recovery
    • Improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath)
    • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first presented.
  • Individually pack any meals provided for employees
  • Frequently clean any regularly touched surfaces
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available and add signage about proper hygiene
  • Post signage to remind everyone of appropriate hygiene practices
  • If 6 feet of separation is not available between employees, contractors, and/or customers inside the facility, consider the use of engineering controls, such as dividers between individuals, to minimize the chances of transmission of COVID-19
  • For employers with more than 10 employees and/or contractors present at one time, consider having individual wholly or partially dedicated to ensuring the health protocols adopted by the employer are being successfully implemented and followed

Health Protocols for Individuals

  • To extent possible, avoid being within 6 feet with individuals age 65 or older
  • Individuals age 65 and older should stay at home as much as possible
  • Maintain 6 feet of separation from those outside of household
  • Avoid being in groups of more than 5 individuals
  • Self-screen for coronavirus symptoms before entering a business (Access a self-checker here).
  • Wash/disinfect hands upon entry and after any interaction
  • Wear a cloth mask

Employee Health Posters for Pension System Members

Here are a few health resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to share with pension system staff. Click the links to download these health reminders and protocols. The posters can be printed and hung in offices or emailed to employees.

The Novel Coronavirus in Texas

The governor issued a disaster proclamation on March 13, certifying that the novel coronavirus poses a disaster for all counties in the state.

The governor issued an executive order on April 3 that virtually shut down the state economy except for those businesses deemed essential to provide emergency services and goods, such as hospitals and grocery stores. As of May 13, there were 39,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched from The Atlantic. The website is updated daily. Texas data can be found here.

During the May 5 conference, officials said there were 33,369 positive tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including 16,791 recoveries and 906 fatalities. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Public servants deserve thanks for working on our behalf

Stock photo/Houston police and firefighters mingle during a downtown event allowing the public to see a firetruck up close.

TEXPERS Staff Report

Click graphic to enlarge.
Most Texans are still social distancing themselves from the new coronavirus, but you can still join TEXPERS in observing Public Service Recognition Week. 

Public Service Recognition Week, May 3-9, is a time set aside to honor the women and men who serve as federal, state, county, and local government employees. Among them are law enforcement officers, firefighters, city workers, librarians, educators, and nurses. And they work hard on our behalf in jobs designed to maintain safe and productive communities. 

Twitter post by the FBI. Click graphic to enlarge.


Typically, various federal, state, and local governments would observe the week through events aimed at educating others about the work of public employees and why they have chosen public service careers. Some groups participate in parades, issue proclamations, host ceremonies, take part in job fairs, and hold events to honor their public servants. 

Due to an ongoing pandemic, however, things are a bit different this year. Most educational outreach has moved online. This week, posts saluting public servants for their dedication along with the hashtag #PSRW have appeared on the Facebook and Twitter pages of various governmental departments, agencies, and organizations. 

Facebook post by ALAMO Young Government Leaders.
Click post to enlarge.
The Partnership for Public Service has organized the observation every year since 1985. This year, the group is asking government employees, their employers, as well as community organizations and professional associations, to inform the public about public-sector jobs and the importance of public service. In addition to giving thanks to civil servants, the observation is a chance for organizations, including pension systems, to inspire public understanding of the role of government in their lives, the critical work employees perform, and the recruitment needs of governments.

What Public Pension Systems Can Do

Recognition Ideas: 
  • Have public employee pension system leaders blog or tweet about PSRW and the importance of public service.
  • Display the PSRW logo or banner graphics - available at www. - on public pension websites, blogs, and electronic communications.
  • Invite active and retired system members to write about why they serve and post photos of the members holding their cards on fund social media channels. Click here for a link to a downloadable card from the partnership. 
  • Present active and retired pension system members with certificates of appreciation for their work.
  • Publicize the observance in pension fund blogs or newsletters. 

Facebook post by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Click graphic to enlarge.

Public Outreach

While we take the opportunity to recognize the work public employees do - especially on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic - let's also ensure our plan members continue to receive every penny of the secure retirements they've earned. 

In addition to telling the public the many reasons why public employees perform their jobs, tell them the importance of earning a secure retirement.

Let them know that millions of people have not saved enough for retirement. Explain that without sufficient income, older adults will not be able to afford the resources that enable them to live independently, pay for medical and other health care expenses, and continue to contribute to society. And tell them that defined-benefit pension plans provide a consistent and predictable stream of revenue to public employees - the men and women who have dedicated their careers to the public sector. 

Point them to online resources such as and your plan's website where they can learn more about the importance of secure retirements.

And visit to learn how you can honor your local public servants.

Additional Examples of #PSRW Social Media Posts

Twitter post by the Association of Government Toxicologist Plus.
Click post to enlarge.

Monday, May 4, 2020

TEXPERS thought leaders offer insight on US credit market

In response to extreme market volatility resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems hosted a conference call with top investment experts to provide its members with insight into the US Credit Market. 

The conference call, held free to our members who registered, occurred on April 16 and provided insight and an early indication of what will happen in the broader economy. TEXPERS invited investment experts to share their thoughts regarding possible opportunities and discuss the current state of the markets in US High Yield, Bank Loans, Convertible Bonds, Asset-Backed Securities, Direct Lending, and Distressed Debt. 

For a replay of the conference call, click here

You'll hear from:

Summary of Discussion


  • US Financial markets are heavily reliant on the functioning of securitization for credit creation.
  • CLOs buy circa half of the loans issued by PE companies. If the CLO market is not resuming, it will be meaningfully more expensive and difficult to finance those companies.  
  • Structured credit market have been predominantly affected by unrealized mark-to-market on very low volumes as compared to credit impairments.
  • Leveraged loan market is slowly reopening but at higher cost of capital consistent with the rest of the public market.
  • It is expected that the weaker part of the market, i.e. over levered companies, companies which should not have been financed in the first place, will not survive this cycle. 


  • Unlike the credit market sell-offs we experienced in 2002 and 2008, the capital markets have remained open for below investment grade companies allowing for significant capital raising.
  • Following the market dislocation in March, we have now entered the credit selection stage. There is likely to be bifurcation between the “have’s” and have nots” defined as those companies that can access capital.
  • As we head into a period of challenged economic conditions, we expect that a number of higher quality, “need-to-exist” companies will be forced into restructurings due to exogenous factors. We believe that being the provider of capital to these more robust businesses could offer very compelling risk-reward over the coming distressed cycle.