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March 12, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

Without changes, crime still pays a pension in PA

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — State employees convicted of rape, grand theft auto and even murder can still collect lifetime pensions under Pennsylvania law.

Jerry Sandusky

The Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University has caused some in Pennsylvania to eye tougher laws for revoking pension benefits from state employees.

An attempt to change that is hung up, for now, in the state House after being voted out of committee on Tuesday morning.  If passed, it would allow the state to revoke pensions from any current or former state employee convicted of a number of felony offenses and violent crimes, including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, arson, burglary, sexual assault, robbery and criminal conspiracy.

A conviction of any federal crime also would trigger pension forfeiture under the proposed law.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee, said the law was the first step in pension reform.

“There is certainly a need to expand the law to ensure that when somebody commits these types of crimes, they are not allowed to take with them the taxpayer-funded portion of their pensions,” Metcalfe said.

Convicts would be able to withdraw the contributions they made towards their own pensions.

The committee approved the bill with a 16-6 vote on Tuesday morning.

Under state law, the only crimes that trigger the forfeiture of a state pension are those related to a state employee’s official public duties.

In other words, state lawmakers recently sent to prison for misusing taxpayer dollars for a litany of purposes can have their pensions revoked, but individuals who commit horrific crimes like those of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky can keep collecting their monthly checks from the state.

In Sandusky’s case, his annual pension totals $59,000.  The state has moved to forfeit that payment, but the former coach, who is now serving a de facto life sentence, is appealing that decision. The 69-year-old Sandusky was sentenced in 2012 to at least 30 years behind bars after he was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

An amendment to the state law approved in 2004 gave the state the right to forfeit pensions to public school employees accused of sexual crimes against students.

State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, said the new rules were too broad and meant that employees could lose their pensions for relatively minor offenses.

“A key element of our system of justice is that the punishment should fit the crime,” he said. “This punishment would be disproportionate to the crime.”

The bill was tabled by the House of Representatives later on Monday, a somewhat unusual parliamentary move that freezes a bill from moving forward for an indefinite period. Lawmakers must vote to move the bill from “the table” for it to progress.

State Rep. Bill Keller, R-Union, the bill’s sponsor, said he was not informed by Republican leadership why the bill was tabled, though he said he hoped it would move forward soon.

Keller introduced the same bill last session, but it failed to reach the governor’s desk.

Eric Boehm is bureau chief for PA Independent. Contact him at Eric@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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