01/26/2006

Ga. bill would let black officers recover lost years in pension plan

SONJI JACOBS
 
Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 
 
Black police officers who were shut out of a pension fund, some for almost 30 years, because of discrimination moved closer Wednesday to being able to recoup their lost years in the retirement plan.

The House Retirement Committee passed a bill that would let any active police officer who worked before 1976 buy time in the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefits fund. The measure could soon be debated by the full House.

The fund was created in 1950, but many black police officers and sheriff's deputies say they were shut out of it because of their race until the 1970s.

The fund's administrators have said that blacks were never formally excluded and have shown evidence that some black officers were members. But they have acknowledged that some officers may have felt excluded during the era of racial segregation.

"I think this is a win-win for everyone," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), the bill's sponsor. "It's a win for the officers, it's a win for the Peace Officers plan and it's a win for Georgia."

Officers who opt to add years in the fund would have to pay $10 for every month of service they wanted to add. The state would pick up the rest of the tab, estimated at $1.5 million for the next 30 years, assuming all 2,186 active officers who served prior to 1976 would buy four years of service.

The bill would affect active officers, but police officers who have retired are not eligible to join the fund under state law. Georgia voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment to allow them to participate in the plan.

Brooks said he has introduced legislation that would provide for a constitutional amendment. He is exploring other options as well.

"I was prayerful and I'm grateful that hearts and minds came together in correcting what everyone knew was wrong," said James Booker, 73, a retired captain from the College Park Police Department. "Now I'm hopeful that an amendment will be passed [that] would cover me."

House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) said he supports House Bill 101.

"I feel comfortable that the measure should move forward and be addressed with a full vote of the House," he said.

"It's only the right thing to do if we denied people the right to participate in a retirement fund because of race. That's patently, on its face, wrong. If we can correct that, we should."

Amanda Seals, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), said the leadership does not typically comment on bills while they are still in the House. "We're aware of it," Seals said. 
 
January 26, 2006

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