In what I’m sure some of their colleagues see as meddlin’, state senators are considering messing with legislators’ retirement money and recreational drug use.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, armed with test results showing he was drug-free at 3:17 p.m. Nov. 2, wants to force all elected state officials to take a drug test the day they take office.
And Sen. Robert Duncan wants to end the system in which legislators’ retirement pay is linked to state district judges’ salaries, which legislators set.
Let’s do drugs first. Senate Bill 612 by Lucio, D-Brownsville, initially included mandatory drug tests for all candidates for elected state jobs. Now it would apply only to successful candidates.
“I’ve talked on the Senate floor about building trust among our Texas voters,” Lucio recently told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “This is how we can start.”
Indeed, if Lucio’s bill passes, no longer could we behold a legislative action and exclaim, “Are these people on drugs?”
Under the plan, the Texas Ethics Commission would post the test results online if the testee OK’d it. We’ll assume any official who refuses to release the results is a meth lab-owning heroin user/dealer.
At the hearing, Lucio distributed results of his drug test taken last year in response to a challenge to South Texas candidates. On Monday, two weeks after the hearing, Lucio told me it’s not looking good for his bill.
“I’m a guy that always lives with hope,” he said, laughing when I suggested that if he still has hope on this bill it might be time for another drug test.
Duncan’s legislative retirement bill concerns something that’s everything you need to know about Texans’ attitude toward government: We pay longtime lawmakers a lot more to stop making laws that we pay them ($600 a month plus expenses) to make them.
For every year of service, qualifying ex-lawmakers (even if voted out of office) annually get 2.3 percent of a state district judge’s salary. That salary, set by legislators in 2005, now is $125,000. That means a lawmaker who retires after 10 years gets $28,750 a year. A retired 20-year lawmaker gets $57,500 a year. Remember, they got $7,200 in annual salary while in office. (To qualify at age 50, legislators need 12 years of service. At age 60, they need eight years.)
There’s now a proposal to raise state district judges’ salaries to $151,000, which, under current law, would mean an increase in legislative retirement pay. But Duncan’s bill would change the law so that future retired lawmakers wouldn’t benefit from the judicial salary increase. As explained to me by his staff, SB 1578 would affect only lawmakers who retire after this Aug. 31 (which includes everyone in the current Legislature). Current retirees, however, would have their retirement pay increased to reflect any judicial salary hike OK’d this year.
Duncan wants to “de-link” judges’ pay and legislators’ retirement money because lawmakers, reluctant to invite criticism for jacking up their potential post-legislative checks, have been shy about raising judicial salaries. Indeed, $125,000 (most judges also get county-paid supplements up to $15,000) might not attract some of the bar’s best and brightest to the bench.
At the State Affairs Committee hearing, Sens. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston, seemed concerned about messing with legislative retirement pay.
“I think someone who has put in 20 years of their lives in public service, even though our salaries are horrible, really has that expectation that they have put in a significant amount of time” and are entitled to a solid retirement package, Van de Putte said.
Huffman talked about legislative service’s “cost to your personal and business life.”
“And I think that’s a point that needs to be made. Sometimes some of the press reflects it a little differently,” she said, adding, “I just want to make that point publicly that there are those who work very hard at this.”
Yes, there are those.
Duncan told me Monday his bill “doesn’t have a lot of support right now” and its prognosis in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which he chairs, is not good.
I asked him whether it’s ever coming out of his committee. “Who knows?” he said.
I think I might.