Two bills that would’ve possibly allowed state and local retirees to receive pay for their service in the Mississippi legislature while also collecting their retirement benefits died in the Appropriations Committee Wednesday afternoon on party line votes.
House Bill 601 was sponsored by state Rep. Earl Banks (D-Jackson) and would’ve allowed future legislators who were retirees to continue to receive their Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi benefits while also collecting partial legislative pay (50 percent).
It was defeated after 25 out of 33 members of the committee voted against it on a roll call vote.
House Bill 604 would’ve allowed members to waive all or a portion of their salary. It was sponsored by state Rep. Billy Andrews (R-Purvis), who is one of three remaining PERS retirees elected this cycle who are still in the legislature. Ramona Blackledge resigned her seat in the House last week.
Like HB 601, it also died after 24 members of the committee voted against it on another roll call vote.
Andrews also sponsored HB 603, which would allow PERS retirees to serve in the legislature in the same manner as elected county or municipal offices. It was not taken up by the committee on Tuesday.
House Speaker Philip Gunn has said that having PERS retirees receive both their benefits and a legislative salary is double-dipping and refuses to reduce the pay of legislators who are also retirees.
According to state law that governs legislative pay ($10,000 per year plus per diem and mileage), the language used for legislative pay is shall, which means something must be done.
In 2018, then-Attorney General Jim Hood released an opinion that said that a PERS retiree doesn’t forfeit their benefits if they were elected to the legislature and could receive both salary and pension benefits simultaneously. The opinion overrode a long-time rule of PERS that prohibited state elected officials from receiving salaries and pension benefits.
An opinion issued in January 2019 by Hood clarified the issue and said that any retiree serving as an state elected official could do the same thing as those who go back to work for state agencies, where they could receive only one half of the salary and only be employed on a part-time basis.
PERS then released a regulation that was approved by the fund’s governing board in April 2019 that allowed legislators to collect their retirement and partial legislative pay.
The defined benefit pension system is still awaiting U.S. Internal Revenue Service approval for the new regulation. According to a release, the IRS still has some questions and a call with federal officials is anticipated for later this month. If PERS doesn’t receive approval, the regulation that prohibited retirees from collecting their benefits while serving in the legislature will be re-instated.
The opinion also said that a retiree would require a 90-day break in service between when they retired from their state or local position and were elected to the legislature, unless an exception was allowed.
State law says that retirees can return to work at a state agency after a 90-day break in service on a part-time basis for half pay.
The legislature is considered a part-time position.