The Parents Campaign and their ‘Mississippi Collective’ network are promoting a new GoFundMe account aimed at supporting the four House members embroiled in the fight over their legislative pay and state pensions.

The account, set up by Jeff Gilder of Hernando, is titled “Keep our retirees in the Mississippi Legislature!” and it has thus far raised over $2,500 with a goal of $10,000 to “pay legal expenses for proceedings on behalf of Representatives Billy Andrews, Ramona Blackledge, Jerry Darnell, and Dale Goodin.”

Blackledge resigned from the Mississippi House on Friday.

The Parents Campaign tweeted Tuesday supporting this effort, stating, “‘Good ole boy’ politics trying to force retired educators out of #msleg. Here’s one way you can help stop this travesty.”

The Mississippi Collective wrote a stronger message on its Facebook page, saying, “Here’s a great opportunity for us to spread the word about a serious injustice taking place in the Mississippi House of Representatives… Basically, Gunn doesn’t want the 100,000+ state retirees as potential challengers to himself and other incumbent legislators, so he’s refusing to comply with the AG opinion and the new PERS policy.”

Speaker Philip Gunn spoke on this issue recently in an appearance on SuperTalk on the JT Show.  He said the bottom line is that state law does not allow the new state representatives from receiving their PERS payments and legislative pay.

“There is no House regulation. There is no House rule. It’s not Philip Gunn’s stance. It’s not Philip Gunn’s opinion. The bottom line is it is state law,” Gunn said. “Each of those four took an oath when they stood up and swore themselves in, the oath says I agree to follow state law. Now what these four are trying to do is circumvent the state law. They don’t want to follow state law. So they are violating their oath, first of all. They are calling on the Management Committee to circumvent state law. The Management Committee does not have the ability to do that. I don’t have the ability to do that. The bottom line is it is state law.”

The Speaker said the proper way to handle this issue is by filing a bill to change state law, but one has not yet been filed.  Gunn says he will refer any such bill to the Appropriations Committee and let the measure work its way through the process.

As of time of this story, no bill has been filed to address the concerns of the four freshmen legislators.

Further, no legal action has been made public either that would require assistance as outlined in the GoFundMe account being shared across social media.

The full description of the GoFundMe is below:

Help four newly-elected legislators fight Speaker Gunn’s attempt to overrule voters and force the resignations of duly elected members of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

In December 2018, the Mississippi Attorney General ruled that retirees should be allowed to serve in the Mississippi Legislature without forfeiting their retirement benefits. After receiving assurance from the IRS that a corresponding change in policy would not jeopardize the PERS tax status, the PERS board adopted a regulation complying with the ruling.

In November of 2019, four state retirees (2 former educators, 1 former judge, 1 former tax assessor) were elected by the voters in their communities to serve in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

House Speaker Philip Gunn wants to overturn the ruling, thereby continuing to limit the number of Mississippians eligible to run against him and other incumbent legislators. He has refused to allow the four representatives to be paid the reduced legislative salary required in order for them to be eligible to draw their retirement benefits, and has, instead, ordered that they be paid the full legislative salary (which disqualifies them for their retirement benefits). The four representatives are considering taking legal action to force Gunn to comply with the law and the PERS regulation.

Your donation will help these four duly elected legislators cover the cost of legal representation in this matter and will protect the policy for retirees who, in the future, wish to serve in the Legislature and draw their retirement.

It is of note that, because retirees must draw a reduced legislative salary in order to draw their retirement, having retirees serve in the Legislature and draw their retirement saves the state money.

As a former educator who cares about education policy, I know it will benefit our state to have retired educators and other state retirees serving in the Legislature. In addition, I hate to see MS continually lag behind other states.  As an example of this issue, specifically, Florida law says “any retired state employee who is presently drawing retirement benefits under any state retirement system may, as any other citizen, serve in the Legislature without affecting in any way his or her retirement status or the receipt of retirement funds while a member of the Legislature.”

All funds raised through this page will be used to pay legal expenses for proceedings on behalf of Representatives Billy Andrews, Ramona Blackledge, Jerry Darnell, and Dale Goodin.