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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Prosecutors won’t get police benefits

Josh Wright Staff writer

BOISE – Citing the need to use discretion with the state retirement fund, the House of Representatives on Thursday resoundingly shot down a bill that would have given county prosecutors the same early retirement benefits as police officers.

“If we continue to issue this act of privilege to more people, it won’t take long to harm” the retirement fund, said Rep. Robert Schaefer, R-Nampa. “It’s not a valid policy to take up at this time.”

The House voted 56-12 to kill the bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake. Republican Reps. Phil Hart of Athol and Dick Harwood of St. Maries were the only two North Idaho legislators to vote in favor of the measure.

Clark called HB 129 a “major change in public policy.” It would have allowed county prosecutors and their deputies in Idaho to retire 10 years earlier than they can now. They would have been put into the same retirement class as police officers, county sheriffs and other law enforcement officers who do “hazardous duties” or are associated with “life-threatening risk.”

“They get death notices and threatening calls,” Clark said. “Prosecutors are on the front lines of defense.”

But four legislators argued the police category in the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, or PERSI, fund wasn’t meant for prosecutors. Even if it were, the proponents said, the fund can’t afford to give increased benefits to any more state employees.

“Prosecutors don’t rise to the claim of doing hazardous law enforcement,” said Rep. Stan Bastian, R-Eagle. “They were not included when the law was written, and they shouldn’t be included now. … This is a feel-good law, not a good bill.”

A similar bill passed the House and Senate in 1993, but Gov. Cecil Andrus vetoed it, arguing the PERSI fund wasn’t healthy enough to add the extended benefits for prosecutors and their deputies from the state’s 44 counties.

Clark argued, however, that the financial impact of the bill would be negligible since prosecutors would add more money to the fund than they do now. He said the fund is in much better shape than it was in 1993.

Turnover among prosecutors is high all across the state, Clark said. By giving them early retirement benefits, Idaho is “giving young lawyers the opportunity to become career prosecutors,” he said.

Clark’s bill got so few votes that he was awarded the “crow,” a mock trophy that he’ll keep until another representative’s bill is as roundly rejected.