February 10, 2016

House OKs police double dipping bill

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

A proposal to allow retired law enforcement officers across the state to return to their old jobs cleared the House floor Wednesday evening after a three-hour debate.

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The House passed the bill on a 38-29 vote, with five Democrats joining all Republicans present for the vote.

Sponsor Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, argued that it would solve staffing problems at police departments across the state. He emphasized that several county sheriffs across the state support the legislation, not just the city of Albuquerque and Albuquerque Police Department.

Still, he had Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez as his expert witness. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry acted as expert witness for the bill in committee this year and last year on a similar piece of legislation that didn’t pass.

“The reason [the bill] occurred was because of a problem of employment with officers in Albuquerque,” Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas, said on the floor.

Some put doubts to claims that the bill isn’t completely aimed at APD. Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, for example, alluded to a public records request by ABQ Free Press that contradicts the State Police Department’s claim that it’s understaffed.

Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, however, said his hometown is looking for more ways to hire more officers.

“Everybody thinks that Albuquerque is the only one that drives this and it’s not,” Nuñez said. Nuñez is also the mayor Hatch. .

APD is short a few hundred officers, and Larrañaga said the bill could allow up to 100 additional officers for that department.

Conspicuously absent from debate is the fact that APD is under court-ordered consent decree from the federal Department of Justice to reform itself. The consent decree came after a DOJ investigation found APD violated civil rights in its use of force policy and shootings of civilians.

In House committee last month, American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico Public Policy Director Steven Allen and former Albuquerque City Councilor Pete Dinelli warned that such legislation could bring cops who were part of the culture that lead to the DOJ investigation back on the streets.

Many Democratic lawmakers did raise the issue of double-dipping, since retired cops returning to work would still collect their pension. Several recalled Larrañaga’s role in helping the Legislature pass laws in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s ending double-dipping of the Public Employees Retirement Act fund, which includes law enforcement officers.

“I am shocked and surprised that you have returned to this,” Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, talked about how “double-dippers” were used as scapegoats following the financial crisis of the late ‘00s. He mentioned how the House at the time passed a bill to end double dipping 65-3.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle,” Maestas said.

Larrañaga promised that his bill would not negatively impact the PERA fund. Under its terms, cops who come back to work don’t get increased pension benefits, but they do have to pay into PERA. The bill limits the time that retired cops from returning to work can stay in the job for five years.

Larrañaga’s claim that the bill won’t impact PERA is based off an actuarial report by solicited by the City of Albuquerque. Both Trujillo and Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, noted that the state constitution only allows PERA to make actuarial assumptions.

“That’s the bottom line of this legislation,” Garcia said. “We’re going off the actuarial assumption of a fly by night actuary that was paid big bucks to come to his assumptions.”

A floor amendment by House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, to instead pay for recruiting new police officers by delaying a corporate income tax drop failed. Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, deemed the amendment non-germane.

The bill now moves to the state Senate.