House bill

Brian O’Neill: Long-awaited House Bill 135 aims to keep Kentucky first responders in Kentucky

Across the state, employers large and small are facing challenges recruiting and retaining talent, including our fire and police departments. While many of us feel a call to be firefighters, we also care about the quality of life after our service.

For years, Kentucky has lost quality first responders to neighboring states where they can receive a secure pension at the end of their careers. Fortunately, Rep. Buddy Wheatley’s Bill 135 aims to correct this problem for our first responders.

Currently, the Kentucky Employee Retirement System and the County Employee Retirement System offer hazardous employees hired after January 1, 2014 a cash balance plan. The cash plan is a 401(k)-style plan with the added feature of guaranteeing at least a 4% return on investment.

According to the Kentucky Public Pensions Authority, a dangerous employee who started his career at age 20 and completed 25 years of service would walk away with an estimated account balance of $225,929. Although this seems like a large sum of money, it is not enough to carry someone into retirement.

With HB 135, we have the opportunity to ensure that those who answer the call to serve our communities as first responders can have security and dignity in retirement. HB 135 would allow people in hazardous positions within the Kentucky Employee Retirement System and the County Employee Retirement System to participate in Tier 2, which provides a secure and modest retirement benefit instead of a pension plan. 401(k)-style.

If we are to attract and retain the best candidates for firefighter and other public safety positions, we need better benefits to encourage them to join our services and stay in our communities. Passing HB 135 will put Kentucky on the right track to fairly compensate public employees for their service.

Brian O’Neill is a Louisville firefighter and president of Louisville Professional Firefighters Local 345.