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Committee to hear 'compromise version' of double-dip bill today

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would restrict double-dipping by public employees is being brought back from the dead by members of a Senate committee who voted it down last week.

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, says he has negotiated a compromise version of the bill (S1182) to try to stop elected officials and some highly paid public employees from collecting both a paycheck and a pension.

The bill will be heard today in the Senate's Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, which Haridopolos chairs.

The move comes in the wake of an uproar from Floridians who have called and e-mailed angry letters to senators who voted against the bill.

"You are in no way representing the interests of the majority of your constituents. I will do my best to make all my contacts aware of your greedy and self interested votes," Tarpon Springs resident Pat E. Dugan wrote to committee members who voted against the bill.

"People are furious," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, one of the sponsors of the bill. "We may have a good chance of passing it this time around."

The amendment drafted to replace Fasano's bill does not go as far as the original proposal, which would have prohibited any public employee from collecting a pension and a salary at the same time.

But Fasano said a compromise that would force retiring public employees to take six months off before returning to work will stop elected officials, including many of the judges who have secretly planned a "retirement" while seeking re-election.

The bill would help close a loophole created in the state retirement law in 2001, when lawmakers approved an amendment designed to help one of their own collect his school board pension while serving in the Legislature.

Since then more than 225 elected officials and 9,000 other public employees have "retired" and returned to work, drawing both a salary and a pension.

Haridopolos said he has long favored the bill because the issue is controversial in his hometown, where Brevard County Property Appraiser Jim Ford won re-election by a small margin and secretly retired last year. In addition to his $141,000 annual salary, he collects a monthly pension of $6,892, and he picked up an extra $337,192 in deferred benefits upon "retirement."

"A lot of citizens are very upset to find he did this immediately after winning re-election by 1 percent of the vote," Haridopolos said.

Last week, Haridopolos joined those voting against the bill in committee after he realized it was about to die. Under legislative rules, a bill cannot be reconsidered unless one of those who voted on the prevailing side seeks another hearing.

Fasano said the state should not allow double-dipping, especially when some public employees are losing their jobs to budget cuts. "It's not the rank and file that are the problem, it's those that are paid a lot of money," Fasano added.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Committee to hear 'compromise version' of double-dip bill today 04/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 1:21pm]

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