Rep. Billy Andrews

Billy Andrews, R–Purvis, has become the second House freshman to resign after being prevented from receiving his public employee retirement benefits while serving in the House.

Andrews, who represents District 87 in Lamar and Forrest counties, announced Monday in a letter to Gov. Tate Reeves that he is stepping down. The governor will have to call a special election to fill the spot.

Ramona Blackledge, who previously served as Jones County tax collector/assessor, stepped down earlier this year from the House seat she was elected to in November.

Blackledge and Andrews are two of four public employee retirees elected to the House in November. They ran after the governing board of the Public Employees Retirement System changed its rules, based on an official opinion of the attorney general, saying that retired public employees could draw their pensions while serving in the Legislature. In order to draw that pension, they could receive only partial pay for their legislative work.

But House Speaker Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, accused the four of “double dipping” and said the change in rules by the PERS Board conflicted with existing state law. Following  Gunn’s lead, first the House Management Committee and then Appropriations Committee refused to reduce the four lawmakers’ legislative pay so they could continue to draw their pension.

“I know there are more important concerns at the present time,” said Andrews in announcing his decision. “I will continue to work for the citizens of District 87 and all of Mississippi. I pray for all of us in these troubled times.”

Andrews served in the House in the 1970s and 80s and is a retired county and youth court judge.

“The failure of our state leadership to implement a policy allowing PERS retirees to serve has denied legislative service to over 100,000 current retirees and over 100,000 members who are still active,” Andrews wrote in his resignation letter, which is effective Tuesday. “This change will come but not until Gunn and other leaders stand up and do what is right.

“I urge each of you to take a position to allow PERS retirees to serve in the Mississippi Legislature. I do apologize to my family, friends, supporters and all citizens of District 87. I am left with no choice but to resign.”

Two other public employee retirees  – Jerry Darnell of DeSoto County and Dale Goodin of Perry County –  continue to serve in the Legislature while not being able to draw their pension. They both are retired public educators. They both say it is a financial hardship.

“I am going to continue to do this (serve in the House) as long as I can,” said Darnell. “My wife and I have talked about this.”

He said he may try to serve the full four-year term.

“I truly don’t know right now,” he said.

Goodin admitted that it is difficult to continue to serve while sacrificing a pension he had earned.

“It is unfortunate that we do not have a resolution to this,” he said. In the past, Goodin had talked about the fact that public employee retirees are being discriminated against by not being able to serve in the Legislature and draw their pension while other retirees and other non-retirees can serve in the Legislature and continue to earn funds from their other profession.

The PERS board has indicated that it might have to reverse its ruling if the Internal Revenue Service does not rule it is OK for public employee retirees to serve in the Legislature and draw their pension. That IRS ruling is still pending.

Others, such as public education groups that pushed for the rule change to allow public retirees to serve in the Legislature, say they do not understand why retired public employees can serve in the Legislature in other states, but not Mississippi.

For instance, Florida law says specifically “any retired state employee who is presently drawing retirement benefits under any state retirement system may, as any other citizen, serve in the Legislature without affecting in any way his or her retirement status or the receipt of retirement funds while a member of the Legislature.”

The Legislature is currently in a prolonged recess because of concerns over COVID-19.

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Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.