The Senate passed Thursday morning a bill that would remove for two years State Personnel Board restrictions on agency heads’ ability to terminate employees.
It’s the fourth consecutive session the bill has been introduced. It passed on a 29-19 vote.
Supporters of the legislation called it a critical cost-saving measure. Opponents said it would hand too much authority to agency heads, who would be free to terminate employees without having to go through Personnel Board procedures beforehand. It would also eliminate Board-administered recourse terminated employees.
The bill also institutes a four-year hiring freeze.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, expressed concern that should an agency employee choose to take another job, the agency could not fill that position because under the terms of the bill, that position had been eliminated. Original language in the bill said that position could not be filled within the two-year window, but an amendment adopted stretched that to four years.
Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, didn’t deny that could be possible. “I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. “If that’s the case, (agency heads) will have to come back to this Legislature and ask us to change it.”
Brown also didn’t deny that it was likely some state workers could lose their jobs.
“All we’re trying to do is save money,” he said. “We’ve cut these agencies and cut them and cut them. We’re to the point now that we’re digging into the bone. These agencies have to have some relief. This is a huge method of doing it.”
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said the claims that Reduction in Force procedures the Personnel Board oversaw related to employee termination were burdensome red tap were not true.
“On average, the entire process took 12 days,” he said. “Who gets hired should be based on what they know, not who they know. If you eliminate the Personnel Board, that’s what will happen. This is about politics. This is not going to save money.”