July 11, 2013 / 12:19 AM / in 5 years

Calpers postpones launch of online pensions database

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California’s pension fund for public employees said on Wednesday it would postpone launching a database that would make details of its members’ pension benefits public after three employee groups said they would press lawmakers to restrict information available through the feature.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System had planned to launch the searchable database on its website next week but said it would delay doing so pending the outcome of legislation that retiree groups will propose to limit retiree-related information available under state law.

The $259 billion fund, best known as Calpers, had intended to make available through the database the names of retirees along with information on their monthly pension payments, cost-of-living adjustments, retirement dates, benefit formulas, final compensation and years of service.

Calpers spokeswoman Amy Norris said the fund was motivated to launch the database to improve transparency, noting state law already requires the fund to release the information upon request.

Birth dates, health information and addresses of Calpers’ members would not be available as they are not subject to release through California’s Public Records Act, Norris said.

But three groups for public employees and retirees said Calpers would put too much information available online.

CDF Firefighters, the Retired Public Employees Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California plan to ask lawmakers for a bill that would at the very least prevent names of retirees from appearing in such databases.

“The names are the biggest problem,” said Terry McHale, a spokesman for CDF Firefighters, which represents about 6,500 firefighters. “We believe in clarity and open government like everyone else but we have to balance privacy interests.”

Calpers had sought to ease privacy concerns when it notified associations for its retired and currently employed members through a newsletter last month, Norris said.

“We believe our member data will remain better protected on our own website rather than on external databases kept by news or other organizations,” the newsletter said.

Pension costs have become a major concern in recent years for governments across the nation dealing with budget cuts, and activists have used public records laws to build databases on pension benefits for campaigns promoting reforms to them.

California Governor Jerry Brown last year signed legislation to reduce pension costs after voters in San Diego and San Jose, the state’s second- and third-biggest cities respectively, approved measures to rein in local pension expenses.

Calpers has more than 1.6 million members, including more than 551,000 retirees, beneficiaries and survivors who receive monthly benefits.

Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Diane Craft

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