Private lobbyists won’t lose public benefits

Posted by Cindi Ross Scoppe on March 14, 2014 

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JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com Buy Photo

Last summer, I wrote a column about a provision in state law that allows private lobbyists to get state health insurance and retirement benefits. As I explained:

THE FOLKS AT the S.C. Municipal Association and the S.C. Association of Counties spend a lot of their time trying to hold the Legislature to the promises of the Home Rule Act — that is, to allow elected city and county council members to make decisions about how to run the communities they were elected to run, rather than being dictated to by legislators. Often, that means begging legislators not to roll back what little autonomy those local elected officials have.

It’s an agenda I share, and one everybody who believes in representative democracy and majority rule and local control ought to share.

But should that entitle those groups to state employee benefits? Specifically, to state pensions and state health insurance.

Similarly, should employees of the school boards’ association and the school administrators’ association and teachers’ organizations and the state employees’ association — all of which are, like the city and county associations, essentially lobbying organizations — receive state employee benefits?

I’ve never thought it made any sense to allow people who aren’t government employees to participate in the State Retirement System and the state insurance system, but I hadn’t focused on it until I saw an Associated Press article last month with the headline, “Private lobbyists get public pensions in 20 states.” Which puts a pretty fine point on it.

There was not exactly a mad rush by legislators to roll back public benefits for private lobbyists. But there was, on Tuesday, a minor effort to do something about it.

The effort went nowhere, and there’s nothing to suggest that a lot of energy was put into it. But at least it was an effort. Rep. Todd Atwater proposed adding a proviso to the budget to shut private lobbyists out of the state health insurance and pension systems for a year — a year being all you can address in the budget.

As the House Journal explains:

Rep. ATWATER explained the amendment.

Rep. ATWATER moved to table the amendment, which was agreed to.

This is the routine when legislators want to make a point but know they don’t have a prayer of getting anywhere and are willing not to cause animosity by pushing the issue.

In case you’re really, really into the weeds, here’s the text of Rep. Atwater’s amendment:

Amend the bill, as and if amended, Part IB, Section 105, Public Employee Benefit Authority, page 494, after line 28, by adding an appropriately numbered new paragraph at the end to read:

/ 105.___(PEBA: Employee Benefits for Employees of Service Organizations and Other Organizations Who are Registered Lobbyists) Funds appropriated or authorized in the current fiscal year for PEBA In Section 105, Part IA of this act may not be used to process, receive, credit or remit any employer or employee:

(A) retirement contributions for the current fiscal year paid by or on behalf of an employee of a service organization as those organizations are defined or described in Sections 9-1-10(11) and 9-11-10(17) of the 1976 Code for employees of those organizations in the current fiscal year who for any period in the current fiscal year are a registered lobbyist pursuant to Section 2-17-20 of the 1976 Code. Such employees accrue no service credit in the South Carolina Retirement System or a correlated system for the current fiscal year and may not establish service for that year as paid public service; and

(b) state health and dental insurance plan premiums paid in the current fiscal year by or on behalf of employees of a legislative service organization as those organizations are defined or described in Sections 9-1-10(11) and 9-11-10(17) of the 1976 Code and items (12), (13), (14), (15), (16), and (23) of Section 1-11-720(A) of the 1976 Code who for any period of the current fiscal year are a registered lobbyist pursuant to Section 2-17-20 of the 1976 Code. Affected employees of these organizations in the current fiscal year are ineligible to participate in the state health and dental insurance plans on account of their current employment. /

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