Thursday, April 8, 2010

State Panel Approves Suspension of Benefits for those in Public Service who face Criminal Convictions - by Robyn Ekings

The state House Retirement Committee today approved a bill that would suspend retirement benefits for a public servant convicted of a crime while he or she is in prison. The measure, by Slidell Representative and Committee Chairman Kevin Pearson would require a constitutional amendment that, if passed by the full legislature and signed by the governor, would likely be on the ballot for Louisiana voters in the fall.

Opponents argued that the measure creates constitutional problems...and will be difficult to administer. The bill will next go to the full house.

Also during their morning session, several other bills were voluntarily deferred by their authors, including some requiring convicted criminals who are public employees to forfeit retirement benefits for crimes associated with their positions."Those who dishonor the public trust," said bill author Representative Anthony Ligi of Metairie "should not receive retirement benefits. These are pre-meditated crimes of greed."

Opponents like New Orleans Representative Juan LaFonta argued that the felon's spouse and minor children would be punished by the benefit forfeiture saying "At the end of the day, you are taking money away from the person that supports a household, then they may have to rely on welfare or some other type of public assistance." The measure was deferred by the committee.

More than 20 states have benefit forfeiture laws for convicted felons. Several members of the opposition today pointed out that the concept is good, but can be a "nightmare" for public retirement systems to execute.

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