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Double Dipping Ban Passes House, Sort Of.

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The Texas House voted overwhelmingly Monday to end the controversial practice of double dipping by longtime politicians - simultaneously drawing both pensions and paychecks from the state - but a last-minute change clouded exactly to whom the bill would apply.

Bill author Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, wants to stop elected officials from taking advantage of an arcane loophole that former Gov. Rick Perry used in 2011 to dramatically boost his take-home pay.

Turner said the bill was not designed to cut off any double dipping that occurred in the past. But under a "perfecting amendment" suggested by legislative bill drafters, and tacked onto the bill during floor proceedings, Turner potentially extended that exemption to every politician currently serving in office - from the governor on down.

Turner said he's now going back to the drawing board, and may move to change the language in the bill before it leaves the House floor for good on Tuesday. He said he strongly objects to the double-dipping loophole, but he doesn't think it's fair to cut people off who were "legally entitled to take advantage of it."

It's not known who might be taking advantage of the loophole, because pension records are confidential and state elected officials don't have to disclose pension income on their personal financial statements. Perry's double dipping only came to light when he ran for president and faced much tougher federal disclosure rules that require candidates to reveal retirement income.

"The intent is not to change the rules on someone who has already entered into that system, but to say from this point forward, nobody can do that anymore, including anyone currently elected to state office," Turner said.

In the original draft of the bill, any state politician "who takes the oath of office" after the effective date of the bill would be forbidden from double dipping their salary and pension. Turner's amendment Monday added a single word: "first."

Now, as passed on a vote of 137-2, it says "anyone who first takes the oath of office" after the effective date could no longer double dip. All sitting politicians have already taken their first oath of office, so presumably they would be exempt.

Turner said he only wanted to make sure that the bill would not be applied retroactively.

"It is not intended to exempt everyone currently in elected office. And if we need to clarify that tomorrow - we'll do that," he said. "It's not to catch someone who has already been doing it when the rules were different, but it's not to give a green light to everybody who has already been elected. That's not what I want to do."

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Publication:The Texas Tribune
Date:May 4, 2015
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