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Changes proposed for PERS board, oversight

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Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, is the prime sponsor of a resolution to allow six state-run casinos in the state.

Proposed amendments to the Public Employees Retirement System would eliminate the system's nine-member board and give the Legislature more oversight. In addition, a seven-member advisory committee would be formed to advise the director of PERS as well as report to the governor and North Dakota Legislative Management.

The majority leader of the North Dakota House says amendments he’s proposed would provide proper legislative oversight of a large pool of money.

On Monday, the Government Operations Division recommended approval of amendments from Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, into the PERS budget bill House Bill 1023, which now goes to the full committee for consideration.

Proposed changes also would include incorporating three members of the advisory board to serve as non-voting members on the Employee Benefits Programs Committee, which would have final say on matters related to PERS.

“It’s changing the governance of who they’re responsible to,” said Carlson, adding the Legislature appropriates money and they should have control over a large pot of money that impacts tens of thousands of people.

The changes to HB1023 would eliminate several contracting duties for the PERS board. The board is able to enter agreements with school districts and city police departments for participation in PERS, as well as other political subdivisions. The board chairman also signs uniform group insurance contracts.

Carlson said the advisory committee would provide “a tie to the employees” in which they can review matters and make recommendations to the legislative committee.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, who expected the committee to act on HB1023 as soon as Wednesday, said compromises on the bill may take place late in the session.

The amendments aren’t the only changes Carlson has proposed for PERS.

One bill he introduced, House Bill 1406, would require the medical coverage contracts to be for two years and begin in January of even-numbered years. It would also not allow for a contract to be signed unless it’s in line with what the Legislature approved for benefits in the most recent session.

Another, House Bill 1407, relates to contracts for medical benefits and prescription drug coverage.

PERS Director Sparb Collins said he hadn’t yet had time to digest the 84-page set of amendments, many pages of which consist of changes to references to the office in state statute.

“At this point, we’re going to start working through the amendments,” Collins said.

It’s not the first time significant changes have been proposed to the PERS budget.

During the 2015 session, the House passed its version of the PERS budget with amendments that would ensure equal coverage when the state changed carriers from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota to Sanford Health Plan that summer.

The Senate at that time disagreed with the amendments and the Legislature adjourned sine die in late April before coming back in June to hammer out a compromise on the PERS budget.

Included in the budget deal at that time was increasing the PERS board’s membership to nine, adding two lawmakers to the board to provide more input and oversight.

(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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