Bill would reduce or revoke pensions of government officials convicted of felonies

ALBANY — State lawmakers in both houses have approved a bill to remove pensions from state lawmakers convicted of corruption crimes.

In a release on Monday, Senate leaders said the legislation will amend the state constitution to "reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer that has been convicted of a felony related to his or her official duties."

"The Assembly Majority believes that public officials who violate the public’s trust and engage in corruption should face the consequences of their actions including the forfeiture of taxpayer funded pensions,” said Speaker Carl Heastie in a release.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said, "The measure will go to the voters so that they can have the opportunity to join with us in taking a strong stand against corruption."

According to Senate leaders, the legislation will allow public officials to lose their pension, or have it reduced, following a court hearing. According to leaders, the court will consider the severity of the offense when determining the loss of pension.

The legislation would affect elected officials, direct gubernatorial appointees, municipal managers, department heads, chief fiscal officers and policy makers.

The issue of pension reform came to a head over the past few years, after the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Leader Dean Skelos on corruption charges. Despite the convictions, both former lawmakers were still allowed to collect thousands in taxpayers' dollars.

Monday, lawmakers also said they would pass legislation to further safeguards on outside income. Under the legislation, any member of the legislature that makes more than $5,000 in outside income would have to submit a written request to the ethics committee to ensure the lawmaker's employment is "consistent with the New York State Public Officers Law."

“I’m proud to have cosponsored and cast my vote for a historic amendment that would strip corrupt politicians of their taxpayer funded pensions once and for all," Senator Rich Funke, a Republican whose 55th District includes portions of Ontario and Monroe counties, stated. "Now our legislation will be put on the ballot for voters to approve on Election Day. If those who voiced outrage to me that corrupt politicians can get a state pension while serving a prison sentence are any indication, I have no doubt this will be the law of the land soon.” 

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, R-136th, stated that he was "proud to support" the legislation.

"These measures will protect New York’s hard working taxpayers by ensuring that government officials, including legislators, are held accountable for their crimes and not rewarded with a taxpayer-funded golden parachute. In addition, we have introduced new requirements that will ensure greater oversight and transparency of legislators who collect outside income," Morelle's statement read in part. The Democrat's district includes Brighton, Irondequoit and portions of the City of Rochester.

But, while Assembly and Senate leaders were applauding the bills being passed, Assemblyman Joe Errigo criticized Assembly leaders for the delay. The Republican's 133rd District includes Livingston County and parts of Monroe and Steuben counties.

"Nearly two years ago former Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested and the allegations against him, in addition to the charges and sentences leveled against former members of the Assembly, should have been the beginning of this endeavor," said Errigo in a statement. "Sadly, Assembly Democrats chose to play politics while the integrity of our state legislature evaporated."