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Turnbull's GERS Bill Held in Committee

Jan. 12, 2006—A bill submitted by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to further reform the Government Employees Retirement System was held in the Committee of the Whole Thursday. The bill would amend the current GERS Reform law, approved by Turnbull in October after months of debate in the Legislature.
Senators decided to hold the bill after receiving various recommendations on certain sections of the bill from both GERS officials and legal advisors to the governor. In some cases, Turnbull's financial team also offered amendments to the bill's amendments, which became confusing for everybody except the governor's representatives.
"It's better that the government and GERS sit down, figure out what they want, and come up with a whole new clean bill," Sen. Louis P. Hill said. All senators agreed.
Turnbull's bill addresses issues in the current law dealing with contribution rates for judges, conditions regarding extended leave program for GERS board members, and what a government employee who returns to the system after withdrawing their contributions has to repay before they can receive benefits.
Conditions are also set up in the bill to deal with hazardous duty employees and to establish a new retirement program for members of the Legislature.
Howard Rog, GERS actuary, said there is also a provision in the bill set up to help government employees who earn over $65,000 annually. Rog explained that currently, the GERS system pays benefits to individuals based on $65,000 cap. The new system would let individuals who earn over the cap put their money away in a "special account."
"The system is completely voluntary and aids those individuals who, after taxes, want to save some more money for when they get older," Carver Farrow, GERS board chairman, said. "GERS would also help those employees invest that money if they so choose."
There was no date set on when the bill would reappear before the committee.
The Legislature also went into full session Thursday and unanimously overrode two bills vetoed by Turnbull.
One bill allows the Legislature to enter into negotiations through the Public Finance Authority for the purchase of the old Anchor Hotel property on St. Croix. Sen. Usie R. Richards, the bill's sponsor, said the purchase of the property would help set up more hotel rooms in Christiansted.
The other bill, sponsored by Sen. Liston Davis, authorizes the government through Property and Procurement, to negotiate the purchase of 1.02 acres of land on St. Thomas for the expansion of the Queen Louise Home for the Elderly.
Senators appropriated $1.5 million in October for the purchase of the land, upon which the Keith Massac Nursing Home currently sits.
All senators were present at Thursday's meeting and session.

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