Originally created 03/02/00

House OKs bill on lucrative state pensions



ATLANTA -- With no debate, the Georgia House on Wednesday unanimously passed Republican-backed legislation aimed at curbing the awarding of lucrative pensions to high-ranking state employees forced to leave office.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, calls for the appointment of a member of the attorney general's staff to act as a "taxpayers' pension advocate" in cases involving employees seeking what are known as involuntary separation benefits.

"The situation we have now is you have an advocate for the granting of the pension, the applicant, and everybody else is sort of a judge," said House Minority Leader Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta, the bill's sponsor. "There's nobody there making the case and developing the facts against the person being granted the involuntary separation pension. That's what this bill would provide."

Involuntary separation, a procedure established during the 1950s to protect state employees from political firings, has been used repeatedly during the years to award dismissed employees up to 90 percent of their salaries.

In the most recent highly publicized case, former Public Safety Commissioner Sid Miles left state government last fall with an annual pension of $102,210.

The General Assembly repealed the involuntary separation law in the early 1970s but did not make the measure retroactive. As a result, any employee who became a member of the state retirement system prior to 1972 still is eligible for the pension, given the right circumstances.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.