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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Incoming Oregon Lawmaker Will Be First To Be Banned From PERS

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Matt Howry
/
Flickr
File photo of the Oregon State Capitol Building

Last year, Oregon lawmakers approved a bill that will bar their future colleagues from signing up for the state's public pension plan, or PERS.

No one has actually been affected by that law, until now.

For years, the question hung over the Oregon legislature: Should lawmakers vote on policies for the state's public pension plan when their own retirement funds hung on the outcome? Last fall, the Oregon House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to end that conflict of interest … but only for incoming lawmakers.

That means when Democrat Barbara Smith Warner takes the oath of office Wednesday, she'll be the first Oregon lawmaker banned from PERS. Smith Warner is a mid-term appointment to fill a vacant seat, but she says she wasn’t even aware of the distinction she'll hold until just a few days ago.

"Retirement security was the last thing on my mind," she says. "You don't take the job for the retirement. You take it in order, I think, to make a difference."

Over the years, some lawmakers have voluntarily opted out of the public pension plan. Smith Warner says she's not sure how she would have voted on the measure had she been in the legislature last fall.

In Olympia, a Republican state Senator has introduced a measure that would end public pensions for all state employees, including lawmakers.