Mississippi State Legislator Resigns Over Pension, Pay Dispute

A recently elected Mississippi Republican lawmaker is resigning from office because he will not be able to collect his state government pension while serving in the state House.

Republican Rep. Billy Andrews of Purvis is the second House Republican to resign for this reason since the four-year term started in January.

Republican Rep. Ramona Blackledge of Laurel stepped down Jan. 31 for the same reason.

In his letter resigning from the House, Andrews wrote that he qualified to run for the House based on the belief that he could serve for less than full legislative pay and still receive his pension through the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System.

Andrews called out Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn in his letter and said, “has blocked that effort.”

“The failure of our state leadership to implement a policy allowing PERS retirees to serve has denied legislative service to over 100,000 current retirees and over 100,000 members who are still active,” Andrews wrote. “The change will come — but not until Gunn and other leaders stand up and do what is right.”

U.S. News reports:

The Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System had a longstanding rule that said state elected officials could not receive salaries and pension benefits simultaneously. In November 2018, then-Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, issued a nonbinding legal opinion contradicting that rule.

In late 2019, the pension board finalized a rule that went along with Hood’s legal opinion. It said Mississippi government retirees can continue collecting pension benefits while also being paid to serve in the Legislature.

Gunn said in January that he disagreed with Hood’s interpretation of state law. Gunn also said that if legislators want to change the law that has been in place for decades, they should file a bill to do so. A bill was filed and was killed during a hastily called House committee meeting after he said that.

Andrews and Blackledge were elected to the House in November.

While Mississippi is a staunchly right-leaning state, it’s still not good that two recently elected conservative lawmakers have resigned.

Back in February, the Mississippi House of Appropriations took up both HB 601 and HB 604 and were voted down by members.

Current law prohibits legislators from drawing on retirement. The PERS board put its support behind the change back in December that would allow lawmakers to draw on retirement.

However, that was pending a decision by the IRS and a change in the law by legislators. That decision has yet to come down from the IRS and PERS does not have the authority to dictate what is in the law.

Speaker Gunn — whom Andrews called out personally and attack — said he doesn’t plan to change the statute because he believes it would be a conflict of interest for lawmakers to have the ability to create laws that would directly benefit them.