Taking care of LEOFF 1.

Since LEOFF 1 was first passed back in 1970 there have been many changes.  Most were small changes, but many were significant.  Most of the changes were introduced by LEOFF 1 organizations.  These organizations were seeking to correct deficiencies in the law and improve the benefits of the members. 

These changes could only occur because LEOFF 1 organizations were working with their members to identify needed changes and seeking changes as these needs were identified.

Since 2000 there have been 19 bill passed in Olympia dealing with some of these problems.

Here are 6 of the 19 bills that were passed since the year 2000

  • Previously to have a retirement benefit for a spouse, the member had to be married for one year before retirement.  Now if a member loses a spouse due to death or divorce or has never been married and marries within one year before or after retirement, they can obtain a retirement benefit for their spouse.
  • Previously LEOFF II members could vote in elections for LEOFF I disability board and pension board members.  Now only those members who are under the jurisdiction of the board can vote in the board elections.
  • Originally LEOFF II members were not eligible to serve on these boards.  Now a LEOFF II member employed by the department served by the board can serve if elected by the LEOFF I members under the jurisdiction of the board.
  • Originally one active or retired firefighter and one active or retired law enforcement officer served on a disability board.  Now if there are no firefighters or law enforcement officers under the jurisdiction of the board, two members of one of the uniformed services under the jurisdiction of the board can serve on the board.
  • Originally a spouse who was awarded a portion of the pension in a divorce lost the pension when the member died.  Now the spouse continues to receive the pension after the death of the member.  If the former spouse dies the members’ pension pops up to the full amount the member would have received if he/she had never been married or divorced.
  • Originally the surviving spouse of a deceased member lost their pension if they remarried.  Now the spouse retains the pension if they remarry.

Currently we have a bill HB 2051 being considered in the 2020 legislative session that started on Monday January 13, 2020 to increase the eligibility for active and retired firefighters and law enforcement officers to serve on pension and disability boards.

These, and many other changes, were brought about by the Retired Fire Fighters of Washington under the leadership of Dick Warbrouck, their president.  We do not know of any other organization that has submitted legislation seeking improvements to the system.  All LEOFF 1 members owe a debt of gratitude to the RFFOW.

Other groups have been actively involved in protecting the system against attempts to raid the pension funds and they have done an excellent job.  These groups include both large and small organizations and numerous individuals.

Now we are facing a new challenge—we are all getting older and fewer and fewer of us are available or able to be active in working on behalf of our pension system.  As we die and our organizations shrink in size, as we become feebler with age and as we just get tired there are fewer and fewer to carry the weight and cost of protecting and improving our system.  Many can no longer make frequent trips to Olympia to testify or lobby our representatives and senators.  As time passes, we will need to find a way to stay apprised of pending legislation and supporting legislators who are friendly to our needs.  We are not far from reaching a tipping point where we will not be able to do the job.  It is, therefore, very important that every LEOFF 1 member, whether active or retired or a surviving spouse join and support an organization that will support you and protect your pension. 

If you are still in good health and physically active it is time to step up and assume part of the burden of working with the legislators and other groups in the interest of the LEOFF 1 pension plan.

We need a viable organization to represent LEOFF I members with pension and disability board disputes.  A bad decision of a board can set a precedent for other boards that would require attorney fees to overturn in court.  Even though the system is fifty years old we still see problems arise with local boards and an organization is needed that can help individuals deal with board problems.  It is amazing that such needs still exist—we have had 50 years of litigation on these issues—but problems occur multiple times every year.

We also need a presence in Olympia to assure we get an early warning as we have in the past on any attempt to merge or modify the LEOFF I Retirement system.

We will be writing more on these issues and urge you to follow up on what happens as the various organizations try to adjust to the challenges.

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