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New State Retirement Rules Kick In

State employees who retire must stay away for at least six months before coming back to work under a 2009 law that kicked in Thursday to prevent “double dipping” for more money.

Coming in response to cases of highly paid elected officials and senior managers retiring early from state employ only to return a month later to collect both a paycheck and a pension, lawmakers phased in changes to save the state money by encouraging senior employees to step aside, and stay there.

Of particular interest is the state’s DROP program, under which employees agree to retire in five years and begin accruing pension benefits. Upon retirement, they receive a lump sum and monthly payments.

The practice, however, contained a number of loopholes that allowed employees to return to the same position after “retiring” for 30 days. In some cases, jobs would be held open for the retiree to return.

“We simply had too many people taking advantage of loopholes in the law,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey and Senate sponsor of the bill. “When someone retires, we shouldn’t allow a job to remain open so they can return and collect retirement.”

In 2008, Wakulla County Sheriff David Harvey, for example, returned to his job after sitting out for 30 days. Harvey, who began the DROP program in January 2004, received a lump sum payment of $487,766. 03 and monthly retirement benefits of $7,633 along with his regular salary.

“Where the abuse took place was not among the rank and file but with elected officials and senior managers,” Fasano said.

Under the new system, employees who return within six months must repay all retirement benefits paid out. After six months, an employee can return but not receive retirement benefits for their previous employment until 12 months have passed since their initial retirement. Finally, taxpayers will no longer be required to pay into a new retirement program.

A study completed in 2008 found more than 9,300 employees were collecting pension benefits after being rehired. The Florida Division of Retirement estimates the new rules will save $127 million this year for Florida taxpayers by ending double dipping.

“Florida taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief today as we put an end to double dipping and save Floridians more than $125 million this year alone,” said House sponsor Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill.

 “This is a common sense measure that closes a loop hole which allowed some people to take advantage of Florida’s Retirement System at the expense of taxpayers,” Schenck said in a statement.

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