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On Thursday, May 11 Assembly Law and Public Safety will consider A-536/S-2107, which would permit a person with a pre-existing volunteer relationship as a firefighter, first aid worker, rescue squad worker, or emergency medical technician with their employer to retire from service covered by PERS or PFRS and continues to serve that employer as a volunteer.  The League supports this much needed legislation.

In 2014, the Division of Pension and Benefits issued guidance on post retirement employment restrictions for public employees. The guidance noted that there must be a “bona fide severance of employment”, a complete termination of the employee’s employment relationship with the employer for a period of at least 180 days, in order to not jeopardize the employee’s retirement benefits. The Division considers re-employment by a different unit of the same public entity, whether the position is covered by the same retirement system or a different retirement system, to be employed by the same employer. If an employee holds more than one position with the employer they must separate from all employment in order to retire, even if the positions are covered by different retirement systems, or the second position is not subject to pension contributions.

If an individual returns to public employment with the former employer, even as a volunteer, prior to satisfying the requirements of a bona fide severance from employment, the employee will be required to repay all retirement benefits received from the date of retirement and may be required to re-enroll in the same or different retirement system. As a result, volunteer firefighters, who are public employees, have been required to resign as a volunteer firefighter in order to receive their retirement benefits.

Volunteers are the backbone of communities providing services to the residents at no cost to taxpayers while freely giving of their time and expertise. Employees affected by the Division of Pensions ruling generally are at least 55 years of age. In their volunteer positions, they often serve as mentors to the new and younger members, typically providing guidance and direction.

While well intended, the Division of Pensions has created an unintended consequence which, if not changed, will impact every public employee who volunteers in the state and will not only drive up property taxes, but would also reduce the quality and level of essential public services.

We thank the sponsors Assembly representatives Schepisi and Bucco and Senators Sarlo and Kean for advancing this legislation.  Please contact your Assembly representative and urge them to support A-536/S-2107.  Furthermore, we suggest you contact the members of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee and urge them to advance common sense legislation.

Contact: Lori Buckelew, Senior Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.org 609-695-3481,x 112.