TUPELO - The governing board of the state retirement system will meet Tuesday morning to discuss a rule change that would allow retired state employees to keep pension benefits if elected to the legislature.
In a written opinion released last November, the attorney general’s office found that in its interpretation, Mississippi state law allows for beneficiaries of the state Public Employees Retirement System to win legislative office and keep benefit checks.
However, the state PERS system has not yet rescinded its rules that cut off benefit checks if retirees enter the state legislature.
Retirees are allowed to hold elected offices in county and municipal government, provided certain conditions are met.
The crux of the issue for the attorney general’s office is that legislators are potentially only half-time employees, subject to the discretion of the lawmaker.
The 10-member PERS board meets Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the issue.
Lee County Chancery Clerk Bill Benson sits on the PERS board. Benson said he wants to remove the administrative prohibition, but cautioned that there are complications, including questions about federal tax law.
“The attorney general’s opinion doesn’t answer every question,” Benson said. “We need to remove the prohibition, because the AG says they can, but I do want to stay in compliance with the IRS.”
Questions also remain about whether the legislature would certify to the PERS board that retirees elected as lawmakers are half-time employees.
In advance of Tuesday’s meeting by PERS board members, education lobby groups have urged action on the issue, including the Parents Campaign.
“The Mississippi PERS board should vote immediately to follow the AG's ruling; they should rescind or modify the existing regulation that discriminates against state retirees who serve in the Mississippi Legislature,” said a Parents Campaign statement circulating among educator circles on social media.
Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running for governor this year, has also publicly called for the PERS board to comply over the issue.
“Every citizen of this state deserves an equal opportunity to stand for elected office,” Hood said in a written statement. “We should work together to remove this financial barrier which keeps retired teachers, law enforcement, social workers, health care workers and other hard working retirees from fully participating in our state government.”
Attorney general opinions do not make or replace state laws, but only offer an opinion about the meaning or application of existing law.