By Jerry Kopel
Indications are that Colorado's Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) will be the subject of "corrective" bills in the 2006 General Assembly. One comment generally used as background in media stories is that PERA is a substitute for social security for state employees. Well, that is not entirely accurate.
One of the best things to happen for legislators occurred 38 years ago. That's when PERA admitted state legislators (who are not full time state employees) to its coverage. There may be past or present legislators not enrolled in PERA, but the majority are members.
And the PERA health benefit plan is a tremendous inducement for covered legislators, especially in senior years, to make certain PERA stays afloat.
Often at night, I thank Mildred H. Cresswell for PERA. Who was Mrs. Cresswell? She was Secretary (chief administrator) of the Senate for 12 years, and began her state employment as a stenographer in 1947.
In 1966, Mrs. Cresswell was elected to the Colorado House as a Republican from Denver. Her campaign slogan was "Think well, vote well, Cresswell".
Neither legislators nor full time legislative employees were members of PERA in 1966.
In 1967, Sen. Woody Hewett (R) , Boulder, and House Minority Leader Rep Tom Farley (D), Pueblo, sponsored SB 155 to allow legislators who served from 1967 on, to be members of PERA.
The original bill also allowed legislators to add prior or future services as a state employee to their legislative years for figuring retirement benefits.
But one employee group was not included.
When the bill reached the House, Majority Leader John Mackie (R), Boulder, successfully amended the bill to add "an employee of the general assembly" on to the list of prior or future services that could count towards a legislator's retirement benefits.
This was added on behalf of Rep. Cresswell and if the bill passed with this amendment, it would enable Rep. Cresswell to deservedly be the first legislator/employee to retire under PERA. She only served one term as a legislator.
SB 155 almost didn't happen. The House wasn't really enthusiastic about adding legislators to PERA. The vote on third and final reading was 34 to 27. The bill needed at least 33 votes. The Cresswell amendment was the deciding factor.
It took additional years for legislative employees (who did not end up as state legislators) to be covered under PERA.
When the legislature was reapportioned in 1972, Mrs. Cresswell was in my new district, although not as my supporter. But going door to door, I always enjoyed chatting with her, although I am not sure the feeling was mutual. Thanks to PERA, she was usually at home.
Mrs. Cresswell died in 1995 at age 84, and of course, received a memorial from the House in 1996. Even though she was never a senator, it really should have been a House-Senate Joint Memorial.
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.
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