S.854 – Extends disability filing period for public employees

S.854 allows members of the South Carolina Retirement System (SCRS), the Police Officers Retirement System (PORS), and the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) that become disabled due to a job related injury to apply for disability benefits up to one year after they retire (the application window under current law is 90 days). To qualify as disabled, each member must receive a medical examination certifying that the disability is likely to be permanent and a recommendation to retire. Once disabled, that person is entitled to retirement benefits for the remainder of their life.

There are some serious concerns with this bill. First, the job hazards that could lead to disability in each of these programs are considerably different from one another and may require different filing windows. For instance, members of the General Assembly only work part-time and don’t face the same occupational hazards as police officers. A wiser approach might consider the likelihood of disability in each program and adjust the disability filing period accordingly, especially since extending this filing window could result in increased cost to the taxpayers.

Regarding the GARS, this exclusive, generous plan was closed in 2012. Lawmakers who took office since then have the option of going into the SCRS or the state’s 401K plan like other state employees. If the old plan is considered insufficient to meet legitimate needs of those lawmakers still in the plan, the solution is not the expansion of benefits at further cost to the taxpayers. Any changes to lawmakers’ retirement benefits and options should come through the SCRS or 401k plan.

Another concern with expanding the disability filing window for the GARS is that, as the law does not explicitly define “duties”, it is conceivable that an “injury arising out of and in the course of the performance of his duties” could be construed to include things that occur outside of a lawmaker’s essential job responsibilities.

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