Representative Billy Andrews of Purvis has resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives, about two months after indicating Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn is going against state law by blocking him and other members of the Legislature from receiving their state government pensions while serving in the House.
A letter addressed from Andrews to Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Gunn states that Andrews will resign effective March 31. Andrews, who represents District 87, called it a “sad time in Mississippi for all our citizens.”
“In spite of an Attorney General’s opinion and (Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi) regulations allowing PERS retirees to serve in the Legislature, Philip Gunn has blocked all efforts to comply with the existing law and PERS regulations,” Andrews said in the letter, which is dated March 27. “As a result, my PERS benefits have been suspended and the House of Representatives has refused to pay me less than normal salary and benefits. The end result is that I cannot continue to serve.”
Andrews – who previously served as a judge in Lamar County – said when he ran for office, he was under the belief he would be able to serve for less than full legislative pay and still receive his PERS benefits, but Gunn has blocked that effort. Andrews also said he and other House members introduced legislation that would allow any legislator to waive all or part of his or her salary, but Gunn had the Appropriation Committee meet and kill the bill, with all members of the Republican caucus – except one – voting against the bill.
“The failure of our state leadership to implement a policy allowing PERS retirees to serve has denied legislative service to over 100,000 current retirees and over 100,000 members who are still active,” Andrews said in the letter. “The change will come – but not until Gunn and other leaders stand up and do what is right.
“I urge each of you to take a position to allow PERS retirees to serve in the Mississippi Legislature. I do apologize to my family, friends, supporters and all citizens of District 87. I am left with no choice but to resign. Thank you District 87 for granting me the privilege to serve.”
A special election will be necessary to fill the District 87 seat.
Back in mid-February, Andrews announced he had been considering retiring because of issues over the matter. At that time, Andrews said Gunn’s stipulations went against PERS regulations and an opinion issued by former Attorney General Jim Hood.
For several years, PERS regulations prohibited elected officials at the state level from receiving salaries and pensions at the same time, but in November 2018, Hood issued a nonbinding legal opinion contradicting that rule. Approximately a year later, the PERS board concurred with Hood’s opinion, implementing a rule that said state retirees could collect both salaries and pensions while serving in the Legislature.
But Andrews said after he and other legislators were sworn in to their seats in January, Gunn and other House leadership told them they would not be able to do so. As a result, Republican Rep. Ramona Blackledge of Laurel resigned from her in February.
“They said, ‘We’re not going to pay you any different; we’re going to pay you the same as other legislators,’” Andrews said in a previous story. “That’s in violation of the PERS regulations, so in essence (Blackledge) had to choose to stop drawing her retirement and serve in the Legislature, or resign from the Legislature and continue to draw her retirement. So she resigned.”
Gunn recently told the Associated Press that he is going by a law that was passed in the early 1950s.
“It’s not Philip Gunn enforcing anything or making them do anything,” he said. “I’m simply following the law. The law has been in place since 1952.”