SADOW: Dee Richards’ Almost-Worthwhile Bill On Retired Leges And State Work

State Rep. Dee Richard is taking another stab at limiting the ability of former legislators to slide into government jobs right after legislative service. His slightly different tack again heads in the right direction, but, as with last year’s version, needs a bit of modification.

Last year, his HB 212 would have prohibited state government employment by any legislator upon his leaving of office (during a term, by defeat, by term limitation, or voluntarily at the end of a term) in a state government job until two years after he left. The problem with that was it might have discouraged perfectly capable people with valuable contributions to be made from serving the state, so this space recommended some changes to do a better job of discouraging those who really were there to serve enough time to draw or to increase a state pension or that might influence their voting behavior in the Legislature to suck up to a governor in the hopes of getting such a job.

That bill never even got to a committee vote. This year, his HB 14 does just about the same thing, except it limits the restriction to “unclassified” employment. An unclassified employee is one who, for hiring and retention purposes, does not go through typical state civil service merit procedures. Most have their own agency-specific rules regarding this, based upon merit qualifications, but some unclassified positions are purely political appointees, able to be hired and fired at the will of the governor, other state elected executive officials, some state appointed officials, and some legislative and judicial leaders.

Perhaps Richard (much like state Treas. John Kennedy once did) does not understand that an “unclassified” employee is not the same as the subset of “at-will” employees, which probably was the target of the legislation. Narrowing the scope does improve it, insofar as merit qualifications meant politics unlikely would affect a hiring decision into the classified service (at least at agencies where politics does not corrupt the process). But the “unclassified” scenario could present a problem along these lines: what if a highly-qualified physician served in the Legislature, and then at retirement wanted to work in a job open in the (diminishing) charity hospital system? This law would prevent that, even though merit qualifications would be applied to the hiring process and he well might be the best qualified.

So adding language that would make it clear that the prohibition covers only political appointees hired and fired at the will of the officer that do not have attendant merit requirements would create a much better bill, and one more faithful to Richard’s presumed purpose. Still, this could exclude individuals that aren’t there for a pension or because a governor (for example) wanted them to vote a certain way, but simply because legislative and other experience makes them capable, besides presumed loyalty to an appointer and his agenda.

Thus, the previous suggestions for amending the bill into a more workable form continue to hold true. First, a legislator could not take this employment if in the final term in that office, until four years after that term would be over – at the end of two terms, either you make yourself eligible for immediate employment if something comes open, or you wait as many as eight years for that to happen. Second, if legislators serving first or second terms wish to take jobs before the end of their terms, they cannot until their term is complete – thus, you could not resign for the reason of immediately moving into a state job unless you have not been sworn in for another term. Third, if a recently-retired legislator is in a state retirement system already and this new job also would qualify him to be in another defined benefit system, instead the ex-legislator would have his retirement portion put into a defined contribution plan that would not allow his defined benefit plan to accrue any service credit.

This does restrict legislator options – but service in the Legislature is just that, service first to the people and secondarily to him, and sacrifices are part of that. It might mean the state can’t get a good worker into office when that office is open – if somebody is a first- or second-termer and the opening comes midway through a term – but as this would apply only to at-will employees where merit may not be so much as a consideration as is loyalty, there inherently is some sacrificing of merit when considering this kind of employee anyway. But it does enhance the integrity of the legislative process and maximizes the chances that any legislator who does choose this route does it for the right reasons.

As currently constituted, Richard’s bill shouldn’t pass. Changed as outlined here, and it merits becoming law.



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