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Senate panel rejects end to public pensioners' double dipping

TALLAHASSEE — Unless something extraordinary were to happen, the effort to stop public employees from double dipping is dead in this year's Legislature.

A bill to stop public employees from collecting a paycheck and a pension from the same agency was voted down Thursday evening.

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-3 against. Because the committee is not scheduled to meet again before the legislative session ends, the bill is likely dead. To revive it would take unusual intervention from Senate President Jeff Atwater, who has supported the bill.

"Sadly my colleagues killed a bill that would stop abuse within the Florida Retirement System,'' said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, after he watched his bill go down in flames.

"Thousands of people will be losing their jobs in the next few months — schoolteachers, corrections officers, school bus drivers. It's shameful that we will be keeping the double dippers while others lose their jobs.''

Fasano's bill was an attempt to close a loophole created in 2001, when lawmakers amended the state retirement law to allow public officials to retire and return to work in 30 days, collecting both a pension and a salary. That amendment was offered because former Rep. Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville, wanted to collect a school board pension while also collecting his legislative salary.

It has blossomed to where some 225 elected officials and 9,000 state employees now are double dippers.

Members of the Senate committee were hostile to the bill from the minute Fasano stood, questioning what it would do to rank and file employees who want to return to work.

Fasano's bill initially banned any retiree from returning to a job within the state retirement system. But he offered amendments Thursday that would have allowed a return to work after 12 months off, and allow teachers and other school personnel to immediately begin working part time.

The restrictions would apply only to public employees who retire after Jan. 1, 2010.

A 12-month waiting period would mean that an elected official would have to stand for re-election — the job could not remain vacant for a year — which would stop those, often judges, who win re-election and quietly go away for 30 days and come back. The idea of Fasano's amendments was to protect rank and file workers but stop the abuses at the top.

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, supported the bill, saying he thought the amendments would take care of "the little people who aren't in those big salaried positions,'' but others on the committee disagreed.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, vehemently opposed the bill, saying it would discriminate against some employees.

The committee considered reducing the 12-month hiatus to six months, but members could not craft an amendment before it was time to vote.

Voting against were Sens. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole; Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne; Gary Siplin, D-Orlando; Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, and Lawson. Jones and Haridopolos are double dippers, drawing paychecks from colleges and the Legislature.

Voting in favor were Dean, a double dipper who draws a state pension from his days as Citrus County sheriff as well as a legislative salary, and Sens. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, and Victor Crist, R-Tampa.

Haridopolos, the chairman of the committee, moved to reconsider the bill, which leaves it pending. But with no more scheduled meetings of the committee before the session ends May 1, it is unlikely to be revived.

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

Senate panel rejects end to public pensioners' double dipping 04/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 16, 2009 11:27pm]
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