Judges’ retirement plan revisions advance

Senators gave first-round approval May 4 to a bill that would change the retirement plan for Nebraska judges.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, LB468 would create a new tier of reduced benefits for judges who become members of the judges’ retirement plan on and after July 1, 2015. The bill would require that the final retirement benefit be calculated using an average of the five highest years of salary and that the contribution rate for judges in this tier not decrease after 20 years. New judges would be required to contribute 10 percent of their annual salaries to the retirement plan.

The bill would redirect certain court fees from the state’s General Fund to the judges’ retirement plan. It also would assess a new $6 fee to each participant in adult and traffic pre-trial diversion programs and direct the funds to the retirement fund.

Nordquist said that raising and redirecting court fees would give the judges’ retirement plan a long term funding source that could not be jeopardized by future budget complications that could affect general fund appropriations.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said the judicial branch of government should be funded by taxes, not by the individuals who depend on judges’ impartial and unbiased decisions. He filed a motion to indefinitely postpone the bill.

“This tinkering with fees and court costs always is political, pure and simple,” Chambers said.

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha opposed the motion, saying that court fees have been funding the retirement fund since 1955.

“This is not new policy,” Mello said.

The motion to indefinitely postpone LB468 failed on a 0-32 vote.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus introduced an amendment that would prohibit the use of fees assessed for enrollment in a pretrial diversion program to fund the judges’ retirement fund. After Nordquist said he would work with Schumacher on an amendment to bring on select file, Schumacher withdrew the amendment.

Senators then advanced the bill to select file on a 37-1 vote.

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