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Double-dip bill resurrected, passes key Florida Senate committee

TALLAHASSEE — A bill designed to eliminate the most egregious abuses of a state pension system that allows officials to collect a salary and a pension was resurrected Tuesday by members of a Senate committee.

Last week, the Senate's Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-3 to kill the bill, but committee Chairman Mike Haridopolos brought it back to life after getting Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, to switch sides.

"It's a start," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, one of the sponsors.

The newly worded bill is a watered-down version of the absolute ban on double-dipping that Fasano originally introduced, but it would prevent elected officials from seeking re-election, "retiring" and returning to the payroll after a 30-day vacation.

The bill would require any public employee enrolled in the Florida Retirement System — a group that includes not only state employees but those employed by about 900 cities and counties — to take six months off from work before returning to the public payroll. Under current law, retiring employees have to stay off the payroll only 30 days.

The change is critical because an elected official can quietly take off 30 days, but no elected position could remain vacant for six months.

The bill also would prevent returning employees from earning credit toward a second pension.

School employees — teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers — would be able to return as part-time employees for no more than 780 hours during the six-month hiatus.

Committee members struggled to find a measure that would block elected officials and highly paid employees from "gaming the state retirement system" while allowing lower-paid employees to retire and return to boost their retirement income.

Supporting the bill Tuesday were Sens. Jim King, R-Jacksonville; Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Ring; and Haridopolos. Voting against were Sens. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole; Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee; and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

Jones, an administrator at St. Petersburg College, said he favors stopping abuse of the system but fears that Pinellas County would face a shortage of substitute teachers if they could not depend on retirees.

A spokesman for the college urged the committee to allow an exception for retiring faculty members to return as adjunct professors.

Fasano noted that Pinellas, like many other Florida counties, is facing teacher layoffs instead of a shortage.

"Why should we keep double-dippers on the payroll when young people are coming out of college unable to find jobs," Fasano said. "That's absolutely wrong."

The Senate bill is scheduled for yet another committee hearing before the session ends May 1, but it could be called to the floor at any time.

A similar bill is awaiting a final vote in the House today.

Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, sponsor of the House bill, said it also forbids anyone who retires and returns to work from earning credit toward a second pension.

The House and Senate must pass identical bills before a measure can become law.

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

Double-dip bill resurrected, passes key Florida Senate committee 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 9:06pm]
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