The purpose of this section of our website is to provide general information about the PERS cases that Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan is handling on behalf of members of public labor unions participating in the PERS Coalition.
Legal Challenges to Senate Bill 822 and Senate Bill 861
Supreme Court Decision
On April 30, 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court, in the case of Moro v. State of Oregon, held that most of the changes to PERS cost-of -living adjustment (COLA) made by the 2013 legislature, including those that were part of the “Grand Bargain,” unconstitutionally impaired PERS members’ contract rights.
At issue in the Moro case was $5.3 billion dollars in benefits for PERS members and retirees. The Supreme Court’s decision finding the SB 822 and SB 861 reductions to COLA unconstitutional for benefits earned before the effective dates of the changes means that over $4 billion of the $5.3 billion in benefits at issue have been protected. This represents a significant victory for PERS retirees and members.
The court affirmed the changes to the 1991 (SB 656) and 1995 (HB 3349) income tax offsets for out of state retirees and to COLA for benefits that members earn on or after the effective dates of SB 822 (May 6, 2013) and SB 861 (October 8, 2013). A complete copy of the Supreme Court’s decision can be found through the link to the pleadings in the case outlined below.
In 2013, Oregon lawmakers made changes to PERS that impacted all current and future PERS retirees. During the regular 2013 legislative session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 822 which affected the amount of the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) payable to PERS benefit recipients as of August 1, 2013, and in subsequent years. The bill also eliminated SB 656 and HB 3349 benefits referred to by PERS as “tax remedy” benefits for recipients who do not pay Oregon state income taxes because they do not reside in Oregon.
Legislators reconvened in the fall of 2013 for a special session to pass a series of bills (aka the “Grand Bargain”). This included, Senate Bill 861, which added a further cut to cost-of-living adjustments for current and future retirees – including low wage workers and low income seniors. Oregon educators, frontline workers and retirees had already been forced to sacrifice $800 million of their hard-earned retirement. SB 861, which passed with a one-vote margin, deepened the impact.
Both bills contained a provision allowing persons who are adversely affected to request review by the Oregon Supreme Court within 60 days after the effective date of the Acts.
On behalf of the PERS Coalition and its members, we filed a challenge to those parts of the bills that we believed violated our clients’ rights.
We alleged that PERS members have a contract right and a property interest in their COLAs and benefits provided by chapter 796, Oregon Laws 1991 (SB 656) and that the changes made by Senate Bills 822 and 861 constituted an impairment of contract under the Oregon and U.S. Constitutions, a taking of property without proper compensation, and a breach of contract. A copy of the petitions and other relevant documents filed in the case can be accessed through the link below.
How to get more information on PERS issues:
Due to the large number of PERS participants impacted by PERS litigation, we can’t respond to individual questions about PERS issues or about how current litigation may impact individual rights.
We’ve listed some ways for you to get more information here:
If you are or were a union member and you have questions or concerns regarding PERS litigation, we recommend you contact your union representative, even if your union is not a member of the PERS Coalition.
If you are retired, many unions have active retiree groups that may be able to provide information. Links to many unions and additional PERS information can be found on the web.
If you were not a union member during your employment, you may want to consider contacting Oregon PERS Retirees, Inc. (OPRI), a group of non-union retirees who have formed this organization to protect their rights. You can find information about OPRI at www.opri.org.
You will find more information about PERS and the current litigation here: http://www.oregoned.org/stay-informed/retirement-security/pers-resources#
Finally and most importantly, if you have questions about your individual rights or need legal advice regarding these changes to PERS we strongly urge you to contact an attorney who can review your personal issues and circumstances and provide advice about your legal rights. This general PERS litigation information does not, nor is it intended to, provide you individual legal advice.
If you do not have an attorney you can call the Oregon State Bar’s referral service (503) 684-3763. They can suggest an attorney in your area.