Pension Proposals Primed in House, Senate

March 20, 2002 ( - With the aim of safeguarding America's retirement savings, committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to vote on competing legislation today.

House Rules

The House Education and Workforce Committee will vote on Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio)’s pension reform proposal, which incorporates proposals put forward by the White House and business groups (see Employee Benefits Bill Passed by House Committee ). Business groups had called for revision of the bill’s diversification requirements

However, there are some subtle shifts underway, shifts that apparently reflect a heightened sensitivity to employer concerns. For instance, while the earlier version of the Boehner/Johnson-sponsored bill (see Boehner, Johnson Bring Bush Pension Reform to House ) would have required employers to allow workers to sell company stock in their retirement plans three years after enrolling in the plan, the version that will be voted on today reportedly would allow employers to implement a ‘rolling’ diversification requirement.

That would tie worker investments to the stock for a holding period of three years from when they actually acquired the investment, rather than the length of a worker’s participation in the plan.

Price Protection

Business groups had also opposed a feature of the bill that held employers liable for certain stock price fluctuations that occur during blackout periods. The revised version would shield employers from legal liability, provided:

  • certain procedures, such as worker notification, are followed, and
  • the length of the blackout is “reasonable”

It is also likely that changes will be made to a provision that would allow plan sponsors to provide investment advice to participants.  Committee Chairman Boehner has been a long-time proponent of expanding investment advice options for retirement plans – and sponsored an investment advice bill that passed the House last fall (see House OKs Participant Advice Bill ).

However, those changes are likely to be challenged by ranking member Representative George Miller (D-California), who offered his own version of pension protection earlier this year (see Pension Proposal Offers Participants ‘100% Control’ ). 

Miller’s bill calls for participant diversification rights after a single year of participation in the plan and expanded fiduciary insurance requirements that would enhance the odds of participant recovery of financial losses. It also includes a more controversial proposal that would call for direct worker participation in committees that oversee defined contribution plans that permit participant direction.

Senate Committee

That same element of worker participation is contained in the bill currently deemed most likely to emerge from the Senate. That bill, the Protecting America’s Pensions Act of 2002 sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), would also impose restrictions on the availability of company stock in retirement plans, as well as calling for heightened disclosures of executive stock sales.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will vote on Kennedy’s bill today.  It is expected to pass by a narrow margin, along party lines.

– Camilla Klein and Nevin Adams      &n