rick_scott_12.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A proposal to end guaranteed pensions for new teachers, state and county workers and other public employees began moving through the Florida Legislature on Thursday.

A House panel voted to introduce a committee bill that would replace traditional defined benefit pensions with individual investment accounts similar to 401(k) plans for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014.

It would shift investment risk from employers to employees, a growing trend in the private sector. Benefits can vary widely depending upon the performance of investments each employee chooses. The bill also would end disability benefits for new employees.

The measure is a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders. It cleared the Government Operations Subcommittee on a party-line 9-3 vote.

Republicans and business groups that support the measure contended the switch would save taxpayers money. Democrats, union officials and other critics argued it would have the opposite result.

Opponents also objected to taking a vote before actuarial studies, which are expected to resolve that question, have been completed.

“This is, ram it down everyone's throat,'' said Rep. Irv Slosberg, R-Boca Raton. “We're not fools. This is just a cost shift, and my advice is find someone else's pocket to pick. Leave our workers alone.''

Subcommittee Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, assured his colleagues there will be plenty more opportunities to discuss and modify the measure when it is heard by other committees.

If passed, the proposal would be the second major change in the Florida Retirement System since Scott took office two years ago. A law passed in 2011 requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their earnings to the system, in effect a pay cut.