/Sen Norwood AG opinion rights ‘wrong and unfair’ rule barring retirees from legislative service

Sen Norwood AG opinion rights ‘wrong and unfair’ rule barring retirees from legislative service

Norwood, who spent over 30 years at the Department of Human Services felt that he could contribute a lot in crafting policy for Mississippi as a member of Mississippi’s Legislature. Norwood won the special election to replace Alice Harden (D-Jackson), who had served as senator for many years. Norwood stated that he didn’t regret the decision. However, he lost money as a Mississippi legislator because he cannot draw his state retirement while he serves in the Legislature. A recent opinion from Attorney General Jim Hood could change this. According to the opinion, Norwood and other retired workers in state and local government, including public school teachers, should be allowed to continue receiving their Public Employees Retirement System checks while they serve in the Legislature. Norwood made an official request to Hood’s office to investigate the matter. “We have educators, and other government workers who have a lot of to offer,” he said. “It is unfair and wrong to say that they cannot serve in policy-making.” For years, a regulation by the PERS Board of Trustees has prevented retired state employees from drawing pensions while serving in elected office. In his opinion, the AG stated that regulation is inconsistent with state law. Ray Higgins (PERS’ executive director) replied via email that he was aware of the AG’s recent opinion. We had no input on this matter. This item must be carefully considered due to its importance, the regulations we have and the potential impact they could have on the system and its members. “The agency leadership is currently reviewing the AG’s opinion.” Attorney general opinions don’t have the force of law. Official AG opinions offer legal protection to governmental entities who follow them. The AG’s opinion is likely to be used by the PERS Board as a basis for modifying the regulation. PERS is a retirement plan that 9 percent of employees of public and private K-12 schools and universities contribute to. Retirees may resume work for a government entity after they have been retired for 90 days. However, the rule that PERS rules say that elected offices are considered full-time means that retired state workers cannot seek state legislative seats. However, the AG opinion pointed out that legislators are part-time positions because many state House and Senate members work full-time jobs such as farmers, funeral directors, lawyers, and insurance brokers. These legislators are not penalized, the opinion states. The AG opinion states that legislators who split their time between their legislative duties or their private sector jobs are not subject to any penalty or forfeiture of non-legislative salaries or benefits. A person who receives $12,000 annually in PERS benefits per year would be subject to a penalty or forfeiture of their non-legislative salary or benefits. This would result in a loss of $48,000 over the course of a four year legislative term. PERS data shows that the average benefit for more than 100,000 people receiving benefits is $23,100. According to the AG opinion, there are more than 300,000. These people are either receiving benefits, have paid into the system, or are currently contributing. The AG opinion has been particularly welcomed by educators. The Mississippi Association of Educators stated that retired educators from other states had been influential in serving in legislative bodies, school boards, and in “many offices in between.” We in Mississippi have been led to believe otherwise. It would mean we lose our hard-earned pensions.