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Saturday, July 20, 2024


Two senators have commented publicly in recent days on a bill before the Legislature that would, among other things, allow lawmakers to retire at full salary for the rest of their lives after serving six two-year terms.
Senate majority leader Allie-Allison Petrus said Sunday night that the majority block is "prepared to delete sections relative to senators' retirement" and send the rest of the bill, which addresses retirement throughout the government, through the legislative process. Senate President Vargrave Richards stayed firmly on the fence in a release issued Wednesday but acknowledged the furor flying over the issue.
"I am aware that this situation has caused much concern, and as the Senate president I acknowledge your concerns and have listened intently to the many points of view," he stated. "I am committed to a process of public participation in the best interest of the retirement system and hope, once all aspects of the bill [are] presented and scrutinized, that we can arrive at a point of consensus."
Petrus, speaking on the "Behind the Headlines" program on WTJX-TV Sunday evening, said the retirement system needs to be revamped and "we recognize the importance of this bill." But, he added, the majority senators are "prepared to delete sections relative to senators' retirement."
There has been widespread speculation that the section liberalizing legislators' retirement benefits was included as a sweetener to ensure passage of the overall package. The bill is based on a draft submitted by the Government Employees Retirement System board of trustees, which earlier this year rejected a draft forwarded to it by the Legislature.
Richards in his release noted that the bill was a long time in the making and that senators were involved in the process. So did GERS administrator Lawrence Bryan, who was also a guest on "Behind the Lines." According to Bryan, the overall GERS revamping stems from the Early Retirement Act of 1994, which mandated that a study of alternative retirement plans be undertaken. "About July 1999 the staff actively began putting a draft together," he said, and it was submitted to the GERS trustees in November.
Under the proposal, employee contributions would remain unchanged, Bryan said, but benefits "would be reduced from the present level." The proposal would not affect employees already enrolled in the government retirement program, he added.
Petrus charged that some senators who were involved in putting the GERS proposal together are now disassociating themselves from it. Terming them "Benedict Arnolds," he charged that they "sat down and discussed this issue from time to time, and at the last minute, when the pressure comes down, [said] ‘I had nothing to do with it.'"
He identified the original nine sponsors of the bill as himself, Richards and Sens. Gregory Bennerson, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg," Roosevelt David, Violet Anne Golden, Judy Gomez, David Jones and Almando "Rocky" Liburd.
Richards stated in his release that "this section, as well as the entire bill, was discussed during the course of the last several months with GERS." He added, "There are many substantive and significant features of the bill that should be passed."
Noting that a Senate session to take up the bill as a Committee of the Whole last week was adjourned before the measure could be considered, Richards said: "At the appropriate juncture, the bill will be reassigned to the Committee on Government Operations for public hearings and full debate."
The committee is chaired by Sen. Bennerson.

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