SALT LAKE CITY — Two bills aimed at overhauling the state retirement system to compensate for a $6.5 billion loss have passed the Legislature and are headed to Gov. Gary Herbert.

Monday, the Senate approved the changes made by the House to SB43. The measure seeks to end so-called "double-dipping" by future rehired retirees. The Senate also approved SB63, which cuts benefits for new hires.

Both bills were made more palatable in the House to the state and local government workers, schoolteachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees throughout the state covered by the Utah Retirement System.

SB43 was amended to allow workers to return to government employment after at least one year and still collect their pensions if they choose. Originally, the bill had required all returning retirees to suspend their pensions while working.

"I think it did come back a little better," said Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden, who retired as the Ogden police chief and then returned, collecting both a pension and a paycheck. But he still voted against the bill, saying retirees from other states or the military wouldn't be covered if they take a job covered by the Utah system.

A long list of amendments was made to SB63, including boosting the government contribution by 25 percent, from 8 percent in the original bill to 10 percent for workers hired after July 1, 2011. That's still short of the 16 percent contribution made for current employees. They won't be affected by the new system.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, joined other Democrats in opposing the bill. Mayne said when the bill was originally passed by the Senate, it was described as the best that could be done for future employees.

"What product could we have had if we had waited a year?" Mayne said, suggesting the legislation should have gone to interim study. "It could have been much better."

But the sponsor of the bills, Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, has repeatedly warned that action must be taken now to make up for the huge loss sustained in the 2008 economic crisis, or the state would face putting $400 million a year into the system for the next 25 years.

The governor has not taken a formal position on SB43 or SB63, his spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said. But she said Herbert believes "retirement system reform is necessary, as the current system is unsustainable. His concern has been in ensuring that current state employees are protected, and he will carefully examine that issue with the bills that he receives."

Liljenquist had the Senate strike the enacting clause on SB94, which would have eliminated the 1.5 percent contribution to employee 401k retirement plans. The action all but kills the only proposal that would have affected current employees.

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