/House committee rejects bills to allow public retirees to serve in Legislature, draw pension

House committee rejects bills to allow public retirees to serve in Legislature, draw pension

The bills were opposed by the majority of Republican majority members. Three public employee retirees were elected to the House in November’s general election. The Public Employees Retirement System Board had changed its regulations so that retirees could serve as legislators and draw their pension. The PERS change was based upon an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office. However, the House, led by Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), has claimed that the PERS decision conflicts with state law. He has refused to lower the pension payments of public employee retirees in order to draw their pension. When asked if they would continue to serve after the Appropriations committee meeting, the three Republicans, Billy Andrews from Purvis, Jerry Darnell from Hernando and Dale Goodin, of Richton, answered that they didn’t know. Andrews joked that he might resign, but he didn’t. Ramona Blackledge, a fourth public employee who was elected in November, said that she couldn’t afford to lose her pension. She claimed she earned it through 40 years of work for the county. He argued that the state law did not allow members to draw and serve their pensions. He also claimed that it was double dipping to receive a salary as a legislator and a pension in return for their public service. Andrews and other public pensioners have noted that public retirees can return to work part-time for the state and still draw their pension. Legislators should also have this option. Percy Watson (D-Hattiesburg), stated that public employees can serve and draw their pensions. However, he indicated that the competition was fine. Randy Boyd (R-Manatchie), who voted against these bills in the Appropriations committee, stated that he was concerned about the financial impact on retirement system if public retirees can return to work as lawmakers. Recent meetings of the PERS Board have indicated that any regulation change would not have a detrimental financial impact. However, board members stated that they would repeal the regulation if the Internal Revenue Service opposed it. Public retirees in other states are permitted to serve as legislators and receive their pension. Goodin stated, “You have 110,000 (public-retirees).” “You’re saying something to a whole group of people that we don’t want.” A bill that was defeated would have specifically stated that legislators could be allowed to waive part or all of their salary while they serve in the Legislature. Gunn pointed out that state law mandates that legislators receive their full salaries. Gunn has pointed out language in state law that mandates legislators receive their full salary. The other bill would have allowed them to draw their pension and continue serving in the state House or Senate.