The Florida Sheriffs Association announced Tuesday it had selected state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, as “Legislator of the Year.”
The association gave Latvala the award at its summer conference in St Johns County.
The group recognized Latvala “for his tireless work to support Florida’s sheriffs and all law enforcement across the state,” said Polk County Sheriff and association president Grady Judd.
Key to the sheriffs association was “his support of the Florida Retirement System,” which, among other factors, made him “an ideal advocate.”
Latvala and other senators held the line against House Republicans intent on closing the state pension system to new hires and shifting them to a 401(k)-style “investment” retirement plan.
The change had been a priority of outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
A competing proposal from state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, would have required just elected officials, except judges, to go into a 401(k)-style plan after July 2015. It died during the past legislative session.
About 900,000 current employees and retirees are in the Florida Retirement System.
State workers comprise about a quarter of pension plan members; the rest are teachers and local government workers, including law enforcement and firefighters.
Critics of the traditional state pension fund, including Weatherford, are concerned about the pension pool’s gap between the money it has and the money it needs to cover current and expected future payouts.
Advocates of the current pension system say financial experts have called Florida’s pension plan healthy.
They add that cutting the pension plan off from new members will starve the fund of contributions from new employees and employers.