By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Proposals to change the retirement system for public employees in Tennessee stalled Monday in the Legislature when a joint panel of lawmakers decided they need more study of the issue.
One measure before the Joint Council on Pensions and Insurance expands the statute denying retirement benefits to state employees and officials who are convicted of a felony while in office. Under the proposal, benefits would end if there’s a guilty plea.
The state treasurer’s office had some concerns with the legislation. It said the measure could be unconstitutional on the grounds that there’s no language in the proposal to address restoration of benefits if a court later finds a person is innocent.
Senate sponsor Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican and chairman of the joint committee, delayed the proposal for two weeks to address the concerns.
Two other measures were withdrawn from consideration. The proposals are similar and would essentially set up a so-called “contribution plan” for new employees and require the state to contract with an outside financial institution to manage the plan.
Sen. Brian Kelsey is the sponsor of both proposals. The Germantown Republican said it’s important that employees have a plan that will be in place down the road.
“We’ve seen other governments that have failed to fulfill their promises to their employees,” Kelsey said. “This legislation ensures that … new employees have their own personal accounts that they know will be there even 30 years from now.”
However, Treasurer David Lillard said there needs to be a comprehensive study of the proposals over the coming year.
“I don’t think we should be taking up the state pension system this year,” said Lillard, who was also on the joint committee. “We’re proposing changes for new hires only for local governments this year, and i think that’s enough for us to deal with at this time.”
Later Monday, the Senate approved legislation that would make elected and appointed public officials ineligible for diversion for crimes they comment while in office. Republican Senate sponsor Ken Yager of Harriman said the measure is necessary because “people who hold public office should be held to a higher standard.”
Sen. Joe Haynes, who did not vote, said if diversion is removed in that case then its removal should be considered in other situations.
“I just oppose making that distinction,” said the Goodlettsville Democrat. “Not that people who do that shouldn’t be punished, sure they should. But diversion shouldn’t be removed for that crime any more than it should be removed … for embezzlers or any other serious crime.”
Read SB2410, HB2907, SB2668 and SB2566 at http://capitol.tn.gov .