A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
During the last week of session, the State Legislature passed a resolution to amend the State Constitution to permit the forfeiture of state pensions for those public officials convicted of a felony related to their public duties (e.g. bribery). This is a commonsense measure that should have passed last year.
Unlike most other bills the State Legislature passes, in order for this reform to be enacted the State Constitution must be amended due to the fact that pension benefits are protected by the New York State Constitution. To amend the State Constitution, the State Legislature will again need to pass the same resolution next year after members of both the Senate and the Assembly have been sworn in. Following this subsequent passage, there will then be a statewide referendum in which the public will be able to vote “yes” or “no” on the amendment.
Given its overwhelming popularity, I have every confidence that New Yorkers will vote in favor of the measure.
Many government reformers have long demanded this change.
Over the past 10 years, there have been more than 22 state officials who have either pled guilty or were found guilty of corruption-related criminal charges.
Due to the way the State Constitution currently protects retirement benefits, these individuals are eligible to collect their state pensions.
Many lawmakers, including myself, have recognized and fought for changes. All the way back in 2009, I, and others in the Republican Assembly Conference proposed to change the Constitution to allow for pension forfeiture but that resolution was not considered in committee.
Since then, there have been various resolutions introduced in both houses to make pension forfeiture possible but they failed to gain support in the Assembly Democratic majority.
In 2011, we passed the Public Integrity Reform Act, which allowed for the potential forfeiture of pensions for certain public officials convicted of felony offenses directly related to their assigned duties.
But the law only applies to certain individuals who entered the NYS retirement system after 2011 and did not amend the Constitution.
Under current law, anyone who joined prior to 2011 can still continue to collect a pension regardless if they have been convicted of a public corruption felony.
In the wake of continued high profile ethical and criminal cases, the 2015 enacted budget included language to allow for pension forfeiture of public officials who entered the retirement system prior to 2011. However, for inexplicable reasons, the Democrat majority in the Assembly went back on the agreement and refused to pass the resolution.
Thankfully, due to public outcry and by actions of legislators in both the Assembly and Senate being vocal on this issue, the resolution was finally taken up and passed this year.
Passing this measure was a step in the right direction to bring accountability to Albany.
When the legislature returns to Albany for the 2017 session, it is critical that the Legislature follow through and pass the subsequent resolution.
We owe it to every resident in this state to prevent future public officials convicted of felonies from collecting a NYS pension, regardless of whether they were elected prior to 2011.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.
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