Federal District Court Blocks Michigan Law Eliminating Health Benefits for Domestic Partners of Public Employees
(Posted on July 4, 2013 by )

US District Court, Eastern District of MichiganMichigan Public Act 297 (“Act”) prohibits public employers from providing medical and other fringe benefits to any person cohabitating with a public employee unless that person is legally married to the employee, or is a legal dependent, or eligible to inherit under the State’s intestacy laws. In a June 28 decision, U.S. District Judge David Lawson (E.D. Mich.) has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Act based on a finding that the plaintiffs (same-sex couples of which one works for a Michigan local government) “have stated a viable claim based on the Equal Protection Clause on which they are likely to succeed.”

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District Court: QDRO Cannot Change Existing Beneficiary of Joint and Survivor Annuity
(Posted on June 11, 2013 by )

US District Court of the District of ColumbiaIt’s a plan administrator’s nightmare: John is married to Melissa, and designates her as beneficiary of his qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA). John and Melissa then get divorced, and the divorce decree says that John is awarded “as his sole and separate property” all rights “related to any . . . pension plan . . . existing by reason of [his] past, present, or future employment.” John marries Gaylyn. John then goes to court, and based on that language in the divorce decree, gets a purported qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) substituting Gaylyn for Melissa as the beneficiary under the QJSA. Who is now the beneficiary: Melissa or Gaylyn?

And the winner is…

Health care costs now the biggest recurring family expense; governments look to employers to help
(Posted on June 5, 2013 by )

Health care costsA new Milliman report indicates that the average health care cost for a family of four is $22,030. This compares with average annual mortgage payments of $12,732. Indeed, it is close to the average amount spent to send a child to a public college or university ($22,261).

On average, the employer currently pays about $12,886 of the cost of health care in the form of employer subsidy. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) does not change this reliance on employer subsidies as the main funding mechanism for health care. So, what measures are being taken to encourage employers to continue or expand health care subsidies? Read more

Governmental Workers Retiring in Greater Numbers
(Posted on May 30, 2013 by )

Retirement SavingsBoth the federal and state governments are reporting increases in the pace of employee retirements in recent years. The causes are complex, including everything from a bulge of workers hired in the 1960s and now retiring to flattened public sector salaries and furloughs. However, in at least some instances, part of the motivation is that employees who have maxed out on their pensions may have a financial incentive to retire (or even find jobs in the private sector) in order to begin collecting retirement benefits.

In some instances, the increasing pace of retirements may even be welcome. For governments facing budget shortfalls, they may result in opportunities to shrink the workforce, or at least to replace highly paid senior employees with junior employees paid at lower rates. However, in at least some instances, the surge in retirements has caused shortages in employees with much needed experience, and/or transitional issues when senior employees are not able to train more junior people before leaving.

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Checklist of Federal Tax Law Rules Applicable to Public Retirement Systems Updated
(Posted on May 21, 2013 by )

Internal Revenue ServiceThe Checklist of Federal Tax Law Rules Applicable to Public Retirement Systems has now been extensively updated. The chart, which identifies each of the Internal Revenue Code sections that does and does not apply to governmental plans, now includes links to each of the Internal Revenue Code sections referenced, as well as various updates to reflect recent legislative and administrative developments.

Plan Found to Be “Governmental” Even Though Originally Established by Private Entity
(Posted on May 20, 2013 by )

United States District Court, Eastern District of LouisianaERISA section 3(32), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(32), defines a governmental plan (exempt from Title I of ERISA) as:

a plan established or maintained for its employees by the Government of the United States, by the government of any State or political subdivision thereof, or by any agency or instrumentality of any of the foregoing.

Internal Revenue Code section 414(d) defines a governmental plan as:

a plan established and maintained for its employees by the Government of the United States, by the government of any State or political subdivision thereof, or by any agency or instrumentality of any of the foregoing.

So what happens if a plan is established by a private entity, but later maintained by a government or one of its agencies or instrumentalities? The Eastern District of Louisiana considered this issue in Smith v. Regional Transit Authority (May 10, 2013).

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New article: Maryland to End Benefits For Employees’ Domestic Partners
(Posted on May 17, 2013 by )

Carol V. Calhoun‘s article, “Maryland to End Benefits for Employees’ Domestic Partners,” has now been published in Baltimore OUTloud. The article discusses the trend toward eliminating domestic partner benefits as more states enact same-sex marriage, and the pros and cons of doing so.

Forbes: Rhode Island State Pension Admits History Of Kickbacks And SEC Inquiry
(Posted on April 30, 2013 by )

An article in Forbes magazine alleges that the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island paid kickbacks to placement agents. As most are aware, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) does not apply to governmental plans. So, what kinds of protections are available in the case of kickbacks from public retirement systems? Read more

New Revenue Procedure Establishes 403(b) Pre-Approved Plan Program
(Posted on April 29, 2013 by )

The IRS will start accepting applications for opinion and advisory letters for prototype and volume submitter 403(b) plans (tax-sheltered annuities and custodial accounts for certain tax-exempt and governmental employers) on June 28, 2013. Read more

CalSTRS Finalizes Divestments from Gun Manufacturers
(Posted on April 23, 2013 by )

An article in Pensions & Investments reports that in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) has approved the divestiture of holdings in two gun manufacturers that make weapons that are illegal in California.

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