TRS Board update: July 16, 2021

Last week the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas held its first in-person board meeting since COVID-19 sent everyone into lockdown last year. Much of the meeting consisted of a legislative update that focused on how the agency will be impacted by the state budget bill, SB 1 by Sen Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound), and HB 1585 by Rep. Stan Lambert (R–Abilene), otherwise known as the TRS Sunset bill. 

The state’s budget now includes funding for the state contribution increases from SB 12 that passed during the 2019 legislative session and helps to ensure the fund will remain actuarially sound as it grows. The state also approved the funding request by the Board of Trustees to add additional full-time employees and open a pilot office in El Paso to provide counseling services in the region. According to staff, this will allow the fund to continue bringing operations in-house and save on investment fees, as well as operating costs to expand member services. While the Sunset bill covered many areas, members should note the changes to current return-to-work penalties—now providing retirees who accidentally work more hours than allowed under law three strikes before losing their monthly annuity. 

TRS staff also briefed the board on the ongoing special session, including an update on SB 7 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) and HB 85 by Rep. Glenn Rogers (R–Graford), which provide TRS retirees a 13th check. Both HB 85 and SB 7 unanimously passed out of their respective chamber’s committees, and the full Senate has passed SB 7, but it is unclear when or if the bills will make it through the full House given the current stalemate over voter rights that has brought business to a halt in that chamber. 

The TRS board spent the remainder of the two days going over the agency’s multi-year data and computer system upgrade known as TEAM, an update from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie on long-term facility planning, the continued need for more space, and committee reports. The board also heard from the interim Ombuds for the first time, who has overseen the 120 written complaints the agency has received since the fourth quarter of 2020. The board concluded the public portion of its meeting on Friday with presentations from the two firms who are finalists to serve as the external TRS actuary before going into executive session.