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Senate panel OKs pension reform bill


Legislation to reform Prince George's County's generous early pension plan -- and strip thousands of dollars in benefits from three aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- won approval from a state Senate committee yesterday.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 857. The measure would force changes in the county's pension system and keep other counties from adopting similar programs.

It also would prevent three aides to the governor -- Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr., 44, Personnel Secretary Michael J. Knapp, 41, and Deputy Chief of Staff Michele T. Rozner, 36 -- from receiving county pension benefits before age 55.

The three qualified for early benefits because they were "involuntarily separated" from their jobs in Prince George's government. They achieved that status when Mr. Glendening asked for their resignations while he was still county executive.

Mr. Riddick, Mr. Knapp and Ms. Rozner previously announced that they would give up the benefits until they leave state service.

"This is an issue that has absolutely enraged the taxpayers of Prince George's County, and they want something done about it," said Audrey E. Scott, a Republican Prince George's County councilwoman who supports the bill.

The committee's action came as no surprise. Not only was the legislation sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, but it was co-sponsored by three-quarters of the senators.

While passage by the full Senate is considered likely, the bill's future in the House of Delegates is uncertain.

Among other things, the measure would prevent elected officials from collecting early benefits because of term limitations. Mr. Glendening qualified for an early county pension under that category, but has deferred his benefits until he reaches age 55.

Counties also would be prevented from giving departing employees more than 50 percent of the cash value of unused sick leave. And counties would not be allowed to modify their pension plans through administrative action, as happened in Prince George's, but would instead have to enact a law.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the budget committee, said the measure is "not directed at the governor," but is an attempt to prevent similar pension controversies elsewhere.

"Sometimes, you just learn about a problem from the problems of one county," Senator Hoffman said. "The bill sets out some good parameters for every county."

Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry has neither endorsed nor opposed the bill, but has told the County Council he wants to delay any action on pension programs until an independent study is completed.

Yesterday, Mr. Curry announced that the study would not be ready until April 25, two weeks after the General Assembly adjourns.

An aide to Senator Miller said yesterday that Mr. Curry's position should not bar the legislature from taking action now.

Dianna Rosborough, Mr. Glendening's press secretary, said the governor has not taken a position on the bill. "The governor will review this legislation as he does all legislation before making a decision," Ms. Rosborough said.

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