Hammered with “thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls” from angry police officers across the state, a rookie legislator Thursday withdrew his week-old bill seeking to overhaul Florida’s public retirement plans.
“The purpose of this bill was to get peoples’ attention about what significant, sustainable pension reform can look like,” said Rep. Fredrick Costello, R-Ormond Beach. “I wanted to get the discussion going, and I did.”
Broward Bulldog reported Thursday that HB 303 proposed slashing retirement benefits for state and local government employee. It would have restricted overtime from being used in pension calculations, and shut down Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP).
All state employees – including police, firefighters and teachers – and many municipal workers would be affected.
But Thursday afternoon, after meeting with lobbyists for the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, Costello emailed the House clerk asking that HB 303 be withdrawn.
“I withdrew it as a show of good faith,” Costello said. “They told me they would come back with significant compromises.”
Others who attended, including PBA Deputy Director Matthew Puckett, could not be reached for comment.
But Jack Lokeinsky, president of the FOP Lodge 31 in Fort Lauderdale, said he was “pleased that it was withdrawn.”
“Who is this guy?” he said, referring to Costello, who served eight years as mayor of Ormond Beach before his election to the House last year. “I’m disgusted that he filed a bill despite all the sentiments against it.”
Lokeinsky predicted, however, “we’re in for more” bills aimed at pension reform. “But maybe,” he added, they “won’t be anything like the nuclear bomb” version filed by Costello.
The rank-and-file’s display show of unity notwithstanding, Costello said union leaders arrived for their meeting knowing their public support has eroded in the wake of the state’s fiscal crisis.
“They told me that because we had filed something so far out there, and because they felt the media and the public is ready for change, they understood that something significant needed to happen and that they were ready to come to the table with some compromises,” Costello said.
No specific concessions were offered. When they are Costello and the unions will take them for review by House Government Operations Subcommittee Chair Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.
Police weren’t the bill’s only vocal opponents. The web site of the United Teachers of Dade called the bill “one of the most egregious and devastating proposals for members of the Florida Retirement System.” The union urged its members to contact the Miami-Dade delegation and other legislators to point out the negative impact of the bill.
For his part, Costello said he doesn’t necessarily want the brand of drastic reform he wrote into his 57-page bill. Rather, he said, he seeks “to get rid of the abuses” in the retirement system that he says have allowed some to unfairly benefit.