Should the names of retired public employees be public, along with the amounts of their pension? That question came before a legislative committee in Carson City Friday.
This bill comes after years of litigation between newspapers and watchdog groups and the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.
Under the law, PERS files are confidential. But in 2013, courts ruled that a separate report containing the names, pension amounts and related information was public, and ordered it released.
In response, PERS altered that report to replace retiree names with identification numbers, which made it impossible to identify individuals. When PERS denied the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s request for a report with names, the institute sued, and a court ruled the system had to provide that information.
Flash forward to Friday, when democratic state Senator Julia Ratti of Sparks introduced Senate Bill 224, which would specifically keep names confidential, but release the ID number, pension amount and some other information. Ratti got a similar bill through the 2017 session, but it was vetoed.
Ratti and the public employee unions who testified in favor said the bill is needed to prevent identity theft, protect public workers including police officers and to shield vulnerable seniors from unscrupulous scam artists.
And Ratti also contended that even though the contributions to PERS come from taxpayer-paid salaries and local government matching funds, they aren’t taxpayer money.
“This raises a number of concerns. Privacy. At what point is a public servant no longer a public person? These former administrative assistants, maintenance workers, law-enforcement officers, social workers and their colleagues dedicated their career to public service. In exchange they earned a salary and they earned benefits. Their earned PERS benefit was set aside for their future use. When we are prying into their individual accounts, we are not looking at taxpayer money, we are looking that that individual’s earned benefit, no different than if I wanted to know about the contents of each of your personal retirement accounts,” said Sen. Ratti.
Opponents of the bill disagree, saying PERS retirement is taxpayer money. Access to names is critical to holding PERS accountable, detecting fraud and abuse and ensuring disability and other claims are accurate.
And Rob Fellner of the NPRI said some lawmakers voting on the bill have a conflict, since there are several state and local government employees and retirees serving in Carson City. Two of the bill’s sponsors, Senators David Parks and Joyce Woodhouse are collecting PERS pensions, in fact.
Ratti’s 2017 bill passed the legislature on a party-line vote, so it’s probably got a good chance of passing this time around. And while Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed the measure on grounds of the public’s right to know, new democratic Governor Steve Sisolak may look at the measure more favorably.