FRS Reform Dies: First Responders Receive $1,000 Bonus as Session Adjourns
Bolstered by billions in federal relief money, the Florida Legislature passed a record $101.5 billion state budget, marking the end of a 60-day legislative session that gave Governor DeSantis many of his top priorities and left Florida Democrats fuming.
With large majorities in both chambers, Republicans steam-rolled Democrats during the session to pass contentious measures on issues ranging from election reform, cracking down on violent protests and banning COVID-19 vaccine passports.
The budget did not include a pay increase for troopers or other state employees.
DeSantis, speaking at the session’s conclusion, pointed to tough budget decisions, and touted bonuses for law enforcement and other first responders who worked through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m proud of being able to accomplish what we set out to do in terms of whether it’s big tech, whether it’s law and order, whether it’s protecting small businesses, whether it’s education,” DeSantis said. “The Legislature responded by doing $1,000 bonuses for our police officers and firefighters and first responders (and it) is well deserved, they’ve worked really hard.”
Along with providing bonuses to first responders, the budget also included $50 million to increase teacher salaries, money for Everglades restoration and raising the minimum wage for state workers to $13 an hour.
One measure that did not pass – and was not a priority of DeSantis – was a measure that would have prohibited new hires from entering the Florida Retirement System’s (FRS) “defined benefit” plan.
A priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, Republicans in the Senate passed the legislation by a 24-16 vote, which would take effect with employees hired after July 1, 2022. After that date, any new employees hired into an FRS supported system would be required to enroll into the 401(k)-style “defined contribution” plan. – though the bill that passed the Senate did exempt troopers and other special risk employees and left the defined benefit option open to those new hires.
Simpson said the FRS must be revamped. “We have seen examples in other states of how quickly conditions can change and a government can experience financial crisis under the weight of its future retirement obligations,” Simpson said. “Waiting until conditions get worse in Florida to fix these problems is like closing the barn door after the horses get out.”
The bill died when the Florida House of Representatives failed to take it up.
The Legislature did respond to urgent request from the Florida Highway Patrol and others and allocated $37.5 million in funding to support the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) during the upcoming fiscal year, including $12.5 million to pay for tower leases and $1 million to replace radio equipment. The additional revenue to will allow the system to be funded for another five years. The current contract was set expire June 30.