Bill targets benefits of state retirees who keep working

TOPEKA — Educators, police, firefighters and nurses today assailed a bill that would prevent state retirees from working in public jobs while also collecting retirement benefits.

Opponents of House Bill 2310 told the House Committee on Pensions and Benefits that the measure would take experienced workers out of schools, hospitals and police and fire departments – especially in rural communities — while having a negligible impact on the state’s pension-funding problems.

Under the bill, retired state employees who go to back to work for another agency would not be allowed to collect both their retirement benefits and salary at the same time.

Some examples of that include retired teachers who sign up to work as substitutes, or state police officers who retire and take jobs as rural police chiefs.

“We understand to make the system work well we have to make sure KPERS (the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System) is funded adequately to meet the needs,” said Tom Krebs, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “But this bill is not the fix our members, or KPERS, need.”

Krebs referred to a $7.7 billion unfunded actuarial liability that the state is trying to address, but said HB 2310 would actually add to KPERS woes.

State agencies that hire retired state workers pay a surcharge — 20.48 percent of the worker’s salary — into the retirement system. Losing that money would make the system less solvent, Krebs said.

The impact would be felt by both cities and small rural communities, according to Karen Kuhn of the Sedgwick County Area Educational Services Interlocal Cooperative.

Small communities often struggle to attract replacements for retirees in key positions in schools, while Wichita benefits from having a pool of experienced educators who are willing to lend their expertise, she said.

“They reason they want to continue to work is because they believe they have something to offer, that the children will benefit from their experience and training, and so that they can continue to doing what they love,” Kuhn said.

Diane Gjerstad. Governmental Affairs liaison for the Wichita Public Schools, argued that the legislation would inhibit the city’s schools from tapping its best talent pool for needs like long-term replacements for absent administrators and providers of special education services, as well as classroom substitute teachers.

The legislation would have the same impact on police and fire officials who often go to work in small communities or in areas of security at schools or universities, said Dennis Phillips, a retired Topeka fire chief and chairman of the Keeping the Kansas Promise Coalition.

Retired nurses who work at KPERS participating facilities would be similarly affected, according to Chad Austin, Vice President of Governmental Relations for the Kansas Hospital Association.