Report finds Edmonson raise unconstitutional

The enhanced retirement benefits quietly bestowed on the head of the State Police in the closing minutes of the legislative session are unconstitutional, concluded a legal analysis of the situation done at the request of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.

“It is our recommendation that the System simply decline to pay any benefit under Act 859,” the lawyers said in a nine-page letter, dated Aug. 12, to system director Irwin Felps Jr.

The law that created the enhancement — valued at $300,000 over a five-year period for the two people benefiting — was tacked on to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement benefits. And that violated the constitution because, among other issues, proper notice was not given that the change would be proposed and the pension provision was added to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement law.

“If that is later challenged (in court), it would fall to the Attorney General to defend the law, rather than expending System resources to pursue a costly declaratory relief action,” the lawyers wrote.

The analysis was prepared in time for the Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board to consider at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 4. The retirement board sought legal advice from national pension system expert Robert Klausner, of Plantation, Florida, and Denise Akers, a Baton Rouge lawyer who represents the retirement system.

Controversy developed after the retirement boost, and how it was accomplished, became public in July.

Edmonson reiterated Friday that he has no intention of taking advantage of the benefits granted under the new law.

He said he would ask the board at its next meeting to take whatever steps are necessary to have the law legally declared unconstitutional.

Edmonson said he would not accept the benefits and would ask the legislators in the next session to repeal or fix it. He did not like the “last minute” manner in which the change occurred and the lack of transparency involved. “I was not comfortable with the process,” he said.

Edmonson decried those who keep the pension story in news, saying they are “politicizing for their own benefit.”

State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, has said he directed legislative staff to add the amendment but did not realize it would benefit only two people. The amended bill was quickly approved without debate on June 2, the last day of session, and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 23. The law went into effect on July 1.

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, a pension board member, said in a prepared statement Friday that he is “embarrassed and disappointed that this law is on the books.”

“I will be sending the director and the board chairman some additional questions in writing very shortly,” said Kennedy, who pushed for the investigation into the law’s passage.

Felps said the board will hear a discussion of the report by the lawyers at its September meeting and debate what steps to take. “From my perspective as director, if you hire an expert and you solicit his opinion, you have to listen to what the experts tell you to do,” Felps said.

In a memorandum, the lawyers said the retirement provision added to a bill dealing with the rights of law enforcement officers while they are under investigation violates a constitutional requirement of legislation having “one object.”

In addition, the Louisiana Constitution requires that notice must be given at least 60 days before retirement bills are introduced. “There was no such notice,” the lawyers said.

Edmonson and Master Trooper Louis Boquet, of Houma, are the only two pension system members covered by the change, which deals with their decision years ago to participate in the old Deferred Retirement Option Plan, called DROP.

Under the old rules, a trooper had to make a decision whether to enter DROP when he or she reached 25 years of service or 50 years of age. DROP allowed troopers to continue to work even though they were eligible for retirement. The downside was the troopers didn’t get full credit in their pension checks if they started receiving higher salaries after entering DROP.

Edmonson took DROP as a captain. As a result of the law change, Edmonson would be able to receive lifelong pension payments based on the calculation of his higher colonel’s pay of $135,000 a year. That’s more than he would have received at captain’s pay, where it was frozen because of his DROP decision.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/