State Politics

Bill tries to end future state double-dipping

TALLAHASSEE — State employees will no longer be able to collect a paycheck and a pension from the same agency under a bill sent to the governor Friday.

The practice, known as double-dipping, takes advantage of a loophole created in 2001 when lawmakers amended the state retirement law to allow public officials to retire and return to work 30 days later, collecting both a pension and a salary.

The “double dippers’’ loophole has since been used by more than 225 elected officials and 9,000 state employees, including 1,000 in the Miami-Dade school district alone. The bill would limit the ability to take advantage of the loophole by requiring retirees to wait six months before returning to work.

“This is a loophole that was created, sadly, a few years ago, and many of us voted on. All we’re trying to do is fix it,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who sponsored the measure.

The Senate approved the bill, 27-11, after including an amendment sought by Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, to push back the day the measure goes into effect from Jan. 1, 2010, to July 1, 2010.

The House agreed to the amended bill and sent it to the governor on a 93-23 vote. Before the vote, House sponsor Rep. Rob Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican, complained that Lawson’s amendment was placed on the bill “because of a couple senators who were worried about friends of theirs ... who will bilk the system some more.”

Schenck said he didn’t know who exactly would benefit from the extended date but he found it ironic that “this bill is all about ending cronyism’’ but it could allow more of it to take place.

The bill originally would have banned all retirees from returning to a state job within the state retirement system. But lawmakers worried the broad ban could hurt rank and file employees — such as teachers and retired judges — who are used as substitute teachers or part-time judges, so the six-month requirement was added.

To avoid future abuses, a retiring employee may not return to the job if it is held vacant during those six months.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, complained that the fix may be designed to punish wealthy wage-earners but would have a devastating impact on lower wage employees who are forced to return to work after they retire.

“It’s like being between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “I want to stop the abuses but I don’t want to hurt the people at the bottom of the barrel.”

Fasano argued that anyone who retires and is part of the Florida Retirement System doesn’t “leave as paupers, even those rank and file, they leave with hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “It’s not like they’re leaving with no money in their pocket. This is a lot of money they’re getting.”

It is the second year Fasano has tried to pass the bill. The ban would not affect current double dippers but apply only to public employees who retire after July 1, 2010.

— St. Petersburg Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at