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Idaho lawmakers could change first responder 'return to work' program

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A law that went into effect last summer was pitched as a way to keep experienced police officers and firefighters around. But, it could be reconsidered by lawmakers this legislative session.

The program allows first responders who are at least 50 years old to retire, wait 30 days and come back to work while continuing to collect retirement benefits.

The Idaho Chiefs of Police Association helped craft the measure as a recruitment and retention tool.

Nineteen police officers have taken advantage of it so far, including police chiefs in Nampa and Twin Falls. Of those, all but three were hired back to their same roles.

Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon) said he thought the bill from last legislative session, which he voted for, was intended to make first responders who were not quite ready to retire available for different in-demand positions in police and fire agencies.

"In reality, what’s happened is the job isn’t posted, there’s no opportunity to fill that position, and 30 days later, the same guy’s back – or lady – is back in the same job, making the same pay, and drawing PERSI retirement," Guthrie said.

He said it’s bad for morale, and introduced a bill to repeal the first responder "return to work" program.

The Professional Firefighters of Idaho testified in favor of the repeal in the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee Thursday because it said retirement contribution rates went up for lower level employees.

"I don't think it's fair that we are putting the burden on our lowest paid employees to go against what the initial intent was," said Rob Shoplock, the president of the organization.

Some lawmakers were hesitant to scrap the program completely, and it was held in committee until next week to consider some changes.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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