Bill on State Pension Forfeiture for Public Officials Convicted of Crime Seems Unlikely to Pass in Current Form

A package of ethics reforms championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo was passed last month as part of the state budget, but one of the bills, state pension forfeiture for those convicted of a crime, stalled in the Assembly and seems unlikely to pass in its current form. Zack Fink filed the following report.

Following days of often contentious negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in both houses, a package of ethics reforms was finally agreed to. It included greater disclosure of outside income and a bill that would strip public officials of their state pension if convicted of a felony.

As lawmakers pushed up against the midnight deadline on April 1 to pass an on-time state budget, the pension forfeiture bill passed the state Senate but suddenly got dropped by the Assembly. Initially, reporters were told it would pass as soon as lawmakers returned from their April break. But it's now late May, and the bill has yet to come back to the floor for a vote.

"If your husband or wife does something that's not appropriate, and that was the only source of income that they were going to live on when they were old, it may not be appropriate to take that away from a husband or a wife or a child," said Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan.

New hires convicted of a crime already lose their state pensions. The bill that stalled in the Assembly would be retroactive to include those who were grandfathered into the original legislation. The bill is actually an amendment to the state constitution, so it would have to go to voters in a referendum.

"The fact that it was put in the constitution does speak loudly and clearly and sends a big, big message," said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Manhattan. "You're talking about people's pensions that they have worked toward. And in terms of the wording of the bill, I thought the wording of the bill was somewhat flawed when they're talking about all public officials."

Speaker Carl Heastie said he is committed to passing something, although perhaps not the amendment in its current form.

"We're still talking, so we still don't know what the final product is going to be, but we've been very clear to send that message that we are going to do something on pension forfeiture," Heastie said.

Insiders say Heastie is being particularly careful as of late after taking heat from the teachers' union for approving Cuomo's controversial education reforms. They say he's reluctant to bring any bill to the floor that his members might be uncomfortable with.

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