Bill would let retiree head Education Department

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House passed a bill Friday that would let Gov. Frank Murkowski hire a retiree to head the Department of Education and Early Development without that person having to repay benefits.

Currently, those who participated in teachers' or public employees' retirement incentive programs must pay 110 percent of the extra benefit they received if they go back to work for the government.

Murkowski's spokesman John Manly said at least a couple of potential candidates to head the education department fall into that category. He would not say who they are.

House Bill 140 would remove the early retirement penalty for anyone taking a job as a commissioner.

''It's a tool for the governor to build his cabinet,'' Manly said.

Under the bill, commissioners who took advantage of a retirement incentive program could continue receiving their pensions while employed as a commissioner. They would not accrue any new retirement benefits, though.

The governor still has to name commissioners for the departments of Education and Fish and Game. Recommendations for those jobs must come from the Board of Education and the Boards of Fish and Game.

The administration says the bill would not cost the state any money because the full cost of the retirement incentive program was paid by the employer and employee when the initial retirement occurred.

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, argued against the bill, calling it narrow, special interest legislation.

He said it should be broadened to let school districts and other employers bring back workers under the same provisions if they're having trouble finding qualified employees.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has introduced a bill that would let teachers who retired early come back to work, but it has not yet come to the full House for a vote.

House Bill 140 passed the House 28-7.

Voting ''no'' were Reps. Berkowitz; Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage; Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage; Les Gara, D-Anchorage; David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks; Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau; and Carl Moses, D-Unalaska.

Berkowitz said he may ask that the vote be reconsidered Monday. If the outcome does not change, the bill will go to the Senate for consideration.

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