The American Benefits Council launched the State Law Project in response to increasing activity by states and localities on employee benefits issues.
The Washington-based group will tap into the state and local advocacy programs and expertise of its member companies who represent 220 of the largest U.S. employers. The objective is to ensure that state and local programs on retirement, health care and paid leave do not complicate programs already offered by national employers.
American Benefits Council President James A. Klein said in an interview that there is "a growing volume" of benefits initiatives by states and some cities, particularly following changes to the Affordable Care Act that reward state innovation, and the launch of several state private-sector retirement savings programs and numerous legislative proposals in the wings. Some states have also moved to impose their own fiduciary standards.
Several states have introduced legislation this year to establish private-sector retirement savings programs aimed at employers not offering them. In 2018, at least 16 states and cities introduced legislation to either create or form study groups on retirement programs for private-sector workers.
Since 2012, at least 43 states have considered legislation, acted to implement a new program or launched a study of program options, according to Georgetown University's Center for Retirement Initiatives.
So far, Seattle and 10 states have enacted retirement savings programs for private-sector workers.
The American Benefits Council serves on the rule-making advisory board of the first private-sector state retirement program, OregonSaves, to ensure that additional burdens are not placed on multistate employers. Officials there "are listening very closely and effectively to these concerns. Other states are looking to them, so there is a lot of value in working with them," Mr. Klein said.
The message to states, he said is "if you are going to take steps, don't impose requirements on those employers already sponsoring retirement plans. You are trying to solve a different problem. There needs to be federal rules for federal plans."
The project will also focus on educating state and local policymakers on ERISA. "This whole arena is what led to ERISA in the first place because the states were getting into the act," Mr. Klein said. "We are going to meet this wherever this needs to be met," including during drafting of state and local legislation and in the courts if necessary, he said.
The initiative is co-chaired by former U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. Mr. Pomeroy, senior counsel at the Alston & Bird law firm in Washington and a former state insurance commissioner, said increasing gridlock in Washington has given states and localities "a free hand to legislate."