/Second lawmaker forced to choose between pension, service resigns

Second lawmaker forced to choose between pension, service resigns

Andrews, who is the representative of District 87 in Lamar, Forrest, and Forrest counties, made Monday’s announcement in a letter addressed to Gov. Tate Reeves has announced that he will be stepping down. To fill the vacant spot, the governor will need to call a special electoral. Ramona Blackledge was previously the Jones County tax collector/assessor. She resigned earlier this year from her November House seat. Andrews and Blackledge are two of the four retired public employees elected to the House. After the Public Employees Retirement System’s governing board changed its rules, they ran. This was based on the official opinion of the attorney General that said retired public employees could still draw their pensions while working in the legislature. They could only receive partial compensation for their legislative work to be eligible for that pension. Phillip Gunn (R-Clinton), House Speaker, charged the four with “double dipping”. He said that the PERS Board’s changes to the rules were incompatible with state law. Gunn led the way by refusing to reduce the salaries of four legislators in order to continue drawing their pension. The House Management Committee, then the Appropriations Committee followed his lead. Andrews announced his decision, “I know there’s more important concerns at this time.” Andrews said, “I will continue working for the citizens in District 87 and throughout Mississippi. Andrews was a member of the House from the 1970s to the 1980s. He is now a retired judge in youth courts and county court. Andrews’ resignation letter effective Tuesday stated that the failure of state leadership to make PERS retirees eligible for legislative service has resulted in the denial of legislative service to more than 100,000 active retirees and more 100,000 former members. This change will occur, but only if Gunn and the other leaders take the initiative and do what is right. I urge you all to stand up for PERS retirees in Mississippi’s legislature. My family, friends and supporters, as well as all residents of District 87, are my sincere apologies. I have no other choice than to resign.” Jerry Darnell, Perry County’s public employee retiree, and Dale Goodin, Perry County’s public employee retirees, continue to serve in the Legislature but are unable to receive their pensions. Both are former public educators. Both say that it’s a financial hardship. Darnell stated, “I will continue to do this (serve as a House member) as long as possible.” “My wife, I have discussed this.” Darnell said that he might try to serve the full term of four years. He said, “I really don’t know at the moment.” Goodin acknowledged that it was difficult to continue serving while giving up a pension he had worked hard for. He said, “It’s unfortunate that there is no solution to this.” Goodin has previously spoken out about the discrimination against public employee retirees by not being allowed to serve in Congress and draw their pension, while other retirees or other non-retirees may continue to work in other professions and still be able to participate in the Legislature. If the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t rule that public employee retirees can serve in the Legislature, and draw their pension, the PERS board may have to reverse its decision. The IRS ruling on the matter is still pending. Public education groups, which pushed for the rule changes to allow public retirees in the Legislature, claim they don’t understand why public employees who have retired can still serve in the Legislature in Mississippi. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the Legislature is currently in an extended recess.