A Fair Review of the Pension Bill

Posted on Feb 25, 2014 in Editorials, News, The Rest of the Story | 0 comments

Opinion Article written by Eric Simpson, November 11, 2013

Spokane Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell and newspaper editors across Idaho are attempting to re-write history in their condemnation of Rep. Lawerence Denney’s handling of pension bill that proposed to end a lawmaker benefit.

As a former newspaper reporter and former two-term lawmaker, I’m appalled at the omission of a key fact; the House State Affairs Committee on Feb. 8, 2012, heard Rep. Dennis Lake’s bill that attempted to end the practice of lawmakers “spiking” their pensions by accepting or being appointed to a higher-paying state job. Russell asserts that Rep. Denney single-handedly killed Rep. Lake’s bill so he could benefit himself.  Not only is that far-fetched, it ignores the fact that the State Affairs Committee voted to hold the bill subject to the call of the chairman.  In essence, the committee killed Rep. Lake’s bill.

As a member of the committee that was present for the bill hearing, there were as many as four problems with Rep. Lake’s bill.  I should point out that lawmakers decide the fate of bills based on their wording not their “good intentions.”

Rep. Lake attempted to address the committee’s concerns with his signature legislation, but it was obvious there were unintended consequences with the bill, so the committee refused to pass it. It was only after that hearing that Rep. Denney asked the chairman of the committee to hold the bill.  I would have been interested in hearing the fixed bill again, but I was in the minority on the committee.  It died as it should have.

If the practice of lawmakers being able to spike their pensions was such an egregious act as Russell asserts, why didn’t the bill come back during the 2013 legislative session, especially since Rep. Denney was no longer Speaker of the House? The bottom line is   there isn’t a widespread problem, and with Rep. Lake retired from the legislature, there isn’t widespread interest either.

These are key facts that Russell and newspaper editors refused to include in their articles and editorials. These journalists frequently remind Idahoans that lawmakers should be accountable to their constituents.  Who are these journalists accountable to for fairness and accuracy? The answer is the same: you.

Erik Simpson is a former two-term lawmaker from eastern Idaho, who retired in 2012, and is a former reporter for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Blackfoot Morning News.

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