TALLAHASSEE — With support from police unions, a bill that would ban "double dipping" by police officers in a popular state retirement program was approved unanimously Thursday by a Senate committee.
Jim Spearing, a lobbyist for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, was critical of a handful of state employees who have taken advantage of a loophole in state retirement laws that allows some employees to "retire" and return to the same job.
"We can't stop everyone, but we want to stop our own because it's wrong, morally and ethically, to game the system that way," Spearing told the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
The bill would prohibit officers from returning to work for the same agency as an employee of a private company. Any public agency found in violation would be forced to repay any retirement benefits received by an officer.
The action comes on the heels of several St. Petersburg Times reports on double and triple dipping by elected officials and state employees who have found they can take home a salary and a retirement check.
More than 8,000 state employees are double dipping, and another 131 are triple dipping, taking home two pensions while back at work collecting a state salary.
Several states prohibit public employees from returning to the public payroll or dramatically limit the amount of money that can be made by a retiree.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Carey Baker, R-Eustis, also would allow police officers and fire department employees to receive special risk benefits to extend the time they spend in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP, from five to eight years.
Legislators approved the DROP program in 1998 to encourage high-ranking public employees to retire and open the way for younger, lower-paid employees to replace them. Instead of leaving their agencies at the end of the five years, many have taken 30 days off and returned to the same or similar jobs.
Baker's bill would extend DROP provisions only for officers from the rank of captain on down.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill earlier this month. A similar bill pending in the House has not been heard in committee.
Other bills are pending that would prohibit elected officials from drawing a pension and a salary, but they have not been heard in committee.