Dearing says he’s against benefits bill

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 23, 2000

State Sen. Bob Dearing plans to change his vote on a retirement benefits plan for Mississippi lawmakers – but only if the part of the bill he promised other state employees remains intact.

Dearing, D-Natchez, is one of two Natchez area legislators who have said they will change their vote on the bill, which doubled retirement benefits for state lawmakers, at next Thursday’s special session. Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez, said he plans to vote to repeal the benefits, but Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, said he won’t vote to repeal.

Sen. Robert L. Johnson III, D-Natchez, could not be reached for comment.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;It was a tough one for us,&uot; Dearing said of the vote that came at the end of this spring’s session. &uot;The original intent of the bill was to (encourage) those people who are receiving in-state retirement … to stay on after 25 years.&uot;

Originally, the bill was designed to offer a new retirement option for public employees who have at least 28 years of service. The option would allow these employees to receive a partial lump sum distribution from their benefits when they retire, as well as receive their benefits over a period of time.

Because of that provision, Dearing said he had made commitments to state employees such as school teachers and county employees and does not want to go back on his word by not voting for the bill. Encouraging state employees – particularly teachers – not to retire after 25 years is necessary to keep good employees, Dearing said. &uot;The teaching profession especially is getting hit hard,&uot; he said.

Ketchings said he will vote to repeal the benefits because he did not realize the benefits were in the bill. &uot;I don’t think the Legislature should have different retirement benefits than other state employees,&uot; he said.

And West said he believes the legislative body needs the benefits as well, to attract people who wouldn’t otherwise have the financial means to serve.

&uot;I&160;don’t think any legislator should have to retire in poverty,&uot; he said.