Why is NYS Protecting Convicted Criminal’s Public Pensions?

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
Joyce Mitchell, the woman who confessed to assisting two convicted murderers escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, will still collect a public pension thanks to Albany’s failure to pass a widely supported reform measure.

In her retirement years, whether spent in prison or elsewhere, we can rest assured that she’ll be able to cash her pension checks.

If you were wondering about the 30 or so lawmakers in the last 10 years that have been convicted of crimes, or sanctioned or resigned from office, essentially admitting their guilt or wrongdoing, they too are eligible to receive their pensions.

This includes people like former state senator Pedro Espada, who was convicted of collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a nonprofit healthcare network.

It includes former state comptroller Alan Hevesi who pleaded guilty in a corruption scheme that involved the state pension fund, the very fund he was charged with overseeing for the public.

When polled in March, 76% of voters said state officials convicted of a felony should have to forfeit their pension.

Yet in June, when it came time to pass meaningful reforms, the Assembly controlled by NYC Democrats failed to move the legislation.

In 2011, the state passed a law to remove pensions from future officials who are convicted, but the bill did not apply to members who were in office prior to its enactment.

Current law protects pensions of school teachers or any city official convicted of a felony related to their official duties.

It protects the pensions of public workers charged with sex crimes, city officials convicted of mismanaged funds, and even a police chief in Schenectady involved with a cocaine ring in 2008.

And of course, it includes people like Joyce Mitchell, whose actions spurred a three-week manhunt which cost the state an estimated $1 million each day it continued and unnerved Northern New York residents as convicted murderers roamed.

She is protected by our laws and will benefit from a taxpayer-funded pension.

While these people may lose their jobs and face public shame, they are not required to forfeit their public pension.

The proposed legislation targets public officials who commit felony crimes while acting in their official capacity.

Why should such officials retain their public benefit when they have betrayed the public trust?

We hear a lot about reform in Albany.

Here is a simple reform that most elected officials and a large majority of the public support.

It is time for the Assembly Democrats to stop stonewalling and allow this bill to come to the floor and pass the house.

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 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.  You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.