Correction: A Wednesday Tulsa World story misstated the status of an amendment to marriage bill passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The amendment requiring an annual evaluation of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative was adopted. This story has been corrected.

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday approved preliminary versions of bills intended to drastically alter state employee pay structure and retirement plans.

House Bill 3293, by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, calls for pay raises totaling 3 percent of current state payroll, although the raises would probably not be uniformly applied. Osborn said Tuesday the estimated $39 million in additional money would be targeted to the state's "worst paid" employees.

The bill passed 90-0, with little discussion and no debate, and was sent to the Senate in a form that requires it to be sent back to the House before it can go to the governor. Osborn said it is her intention to "kill the bill if it is not properly funded."

Far more contentious was House Bill 2630, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City. It would force new state employees into defined contribution retirement plans and exclude them from the existing defined benefit plan.

The bill phases out the Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System's defined benefit plan and replaces it with 401k-type defined contribution plans. New hires would be required to contribute at least 3 percent of their salaries to one of the new plans, and the state would fully match contributions of up to 7 percent.

OPERS is one of seven state retirement funds and includes most state employees. It does not include educators, firefighters, law enforcement officers or members of the judiciary, all of whom have their own retirement plans.

Rep. Randy McDaniel, the bill's author, said the change is needed to reduce the state's long-term liability and because the current generation of workers prefer the portability and individual control of defined contribution plans.

McDaniel said the state is currently paying more than $800 million a year to reduce the retirement systems' unfunded liability. OPERS is now considered solvent and will be fully funded in 14 years.

Opponents of the transition say it will leave retirees with less money and is being done primarily at the behest of financial managers who stand to benefit from fees associated with the 401k plans. McDaniel acknowledged the fees are likely to be higher for the individual accounts than for the state-managed funds supporting the defined benefit plans.

The measure passed 57-42, and also must return to the House after it is considered by the Senate.

Also Tuesday

Marriage: Two bills dealing with the preservation of marriage attracted a lot of attention on the House floor.

HB 2796, by Rep. Mark McCullough, would add the support and reinforcement of intact families to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's mission statement.

Under questioning, McCullough admitted he didn't know what, if anything, the action would accomplish, but said it is imperative the state do all it can to encourage families.

"The state has a vital interest in the preservation of nuclear families," he said.

Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, said he agreed with McCullough's intent but doubted the effectiveness of his bill.

"I don't think government can save a marriage," Proctor said. "It's hard to save a marriage that doesn't want to be saved."

Despite misgivings, the House passed McCullough's bill 76-15.

Similar arguments were heard later in the day on HB 2249, which would require couples filing for divorce on grounds of incompatibility to undergo counseling. Tulsa County has had a similar program for years.

In this case, Democrats tried to attach an amendment that would require an evaluation of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, a program initiated in the 1990s to reduce the state's divorce rate.

HB 2249's author, Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said that would be like adding an amendment studying the impact of welfare programs on reducing poverty. Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she was agreeable to such an amendment, but Nelson declined.

His bill passed 65-21 with the amendment.

Health care: A bill that would "incentivize" state employees to choose health-insurance plans from among several that disclose their costs online caused Democrats to suggest it sounded suspiciously like the Affordable Care Act's health-insurance exchanges.

"Can you explain the difference between Obamacare and Murpheycare?" House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, asked the author of HB 2828, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie.

Murphey's bill passed 68-23.

The House also passed HB 3286 by Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, authorizing the insurance commissioner to license the so-called "navigators" contracted by the federal government to assist Oklahomans in choosing health insurance through the ACA.

Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365

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