NU Online News Service, March 21, 11:17 a.m. — Washington

A House panel approved a pension reform measure yesterday that would impose new fiduciary standards on plan sponsors while giving workers greater access to investment advice

The legislation, H.R. 3762, was approved by a 28-19 vote in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Enron defined contribution plan.

The legislation was approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

H.R. 3762 seeks to provide employees with greater protection against self-dealing by company executives.

Specifically, H.R. 3762 bars senior corporate executives from selling company stock during blackout periods, and to give employees 30-days notice before a blackout period begins.

Blackout periods are intervals during with 401(k) plan participants are not allowed to make changes in their account. This usually happens during when a plan changes recordkeepers.

In addition, the legislation says that plan sponsors have a fiduciary responsibility for workers’ investment during blackout periods.

The legislation also requires sponsors to give workers quarterly benefit statements that include information about the value of their assets and their rights to diversify.

Finally, H.R. 3762 includes language from the Retirement Security Advice Act, H.R. 2269, which has already passed the House, that would allow insurance companies, agents and other financial service firms that provide services to plans to also provide investment advice to plan participants, subject to strict disclosure rules.

This investment advice language is strongly supported by agents and companies.

Kathryn Ricard, vice president for retirements and pension with the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, says the investment advice language will help ensure that plan participants have access to a wide range of financial professionals as they make their investment decisions about retirement savings.