Law change boosts pension for state police leader
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state police retirement system decided Wednesday to investigate a pension law change made in the final hours of the legislative session that gave Louisiana's state police superintendent a hefty retirement boost.
The system's governing board asked its attorney to look into the details of who sought the last-minute add-on, whether it was properly handled and what it will cost the pension system.
Treasurer John Kennedy, a member of the board, urged the review. He said the bond rating agencies that set state credit ratings raised concerns about special carve-outs that can raise the state's multibillion-dollar retirement debt.
"We need to get to the bottom of this," he said. "This is important to the retirees. You've got to treat everyone the same."
Irwin Felps, executive director of the system, said the provision — which was adopted by lawmakers with no discussion of its implications — affects two people who work for the Louisiana State Police: the superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and a 32-year trooper who works in Houma.
A legislative actuary estimated the law change will cost $300,000.
Edmonson, an appointee of Gov. Bobby Jindal, said he didn't personally ask for the change in the way his retirement benefits will be calculated, but said his staff sought it with his blessing. He said he'll abide by the advice of the retirement system board.
"If they come back and say this is improper, it's not fair and equitable, I will not be a part of it and I will not accept it," he said.
The retirement language was added into a bill by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, behind the scenes in a six-member legislative committee, then approved by the House and Senate on the final day of the regular session. The implications were first reported by a local blog called Louisiana Voice.
The bill would put Edmonson and the Houma-based trooper in line with how benefits are calculated for other current state police employees. Edmonson said he and the trooper were the final people impacted by a now-obsolete retirement plan.
Morrell said he doesn't know who sought the add-on to his bill, which initially dealt with the rights of law enforcement officers under investigation. He said he was told by legislative staff that the new language was a "retirement fix for law enforcement officers."
"The way it was explained to me, it seemed innocuous like it was fixing a minor problem. Obviously, that's not what it did," he said.
The law change will let Edmonson retire as a full colonel instead of as a captain, so his pension payment will be calculated off the higher $134,000-per-year salary. He said he's been paying into the retirement system as a colonel for seven years even though he wasn't eligible for the higher benefit.
Edmonson said his staff approached him with the idea of changing the law and he agreed.
While he acknowledged the timing "looks bad," he said the retirement benefit change was fair. "It's just unfortunate that it came out in the last point of the session like that," he said.