Assemblyman Buchwald Announces Surging Support for Pension Forfeiture Ethics Bill
Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester) announced at a press conference on Wednesday that a bipartisan group of over 60 Assembly co-sponsors, including all freshman members, have signed onto legislation he introduced that would permit stripping state pension benefits from any public official convicted of a felony where the public’s trust has been violated (A.7173).
Assemblyman Buchwald was joined by Chairman of the Ethics and Guidance Committee Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Senator George Latimer (D-Westchester), Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers), and members of the growing coalition in the legislature who co-sponsored the legislation.
“Government officials who betray the public trust should not collect a pension in the same way as those who serve honorably, and I'm pleased that over 60 members of the State Assembly agree with me,” stated Assemblyman David Buchwald. “No matter how serious the offense, current law still assures most public employees that their state pensions cannot be challenged. I promised Westchester families that I wouldn’t stand for this type of behavior, and now more than ever we need to act.”
Assemblyman Buchwald’s bill is an amendment to the New York State Constitution aiming to strengthen the current “Public Integrity Reform Act,” which only strips pension benefits of convicted officials who first entered the State pension system after the law took effect in November 2011. Buchwald’s bill would apply to any public official, regardless of when he or she first held office.
“When an elected official is sworn into office, he or she must sign a solemn Oath stating that they will uphold the laws and the Constitution that govern New York State,” said State Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany) who carries the bill in the State Senate (S.1133). “This Oath sets the highest standard for integrity - the public's trust. A violation of that trust, while in office, demands pecuniary as well as criminal penalty. The current law only regulates officials that joined the pension system after 2011. It is critical that we enact a law that applies to all public officials. The public deserves nothing less.”
"The taxpayers of this state deserve to know that their money is not funding the retirements of former elected officials who have betrayed the public's trust,” said State Senator Ted O’Brien (D-Rochester) “I am honored to join my colleagues in support of this change. This is a necessary step if we are to continue to restore accountability, transparency and the confidence of our citizens in New York State government."
“Decency dictates that tax dollars should not indefinitely support the well-being of lawmakers who violate their office,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Common Cause/NY applauds the members of the Assembly who put the public interest first, and calls on all members of the Legislature to follow suit and amend the Constitution so that, in appropriate situations, corrupt lawmakers don't collect a public pension. Honest people have nothing to fear.”
Additionally, this is a concept that has been recently embraced by Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. At a September Moreland Commission hearing, Mr. Bharara was quoted as saying “The common-sense principle is a simple one: Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed in office.”
A public official in the State of New York can currently accept bribes, steal public funds or engage in numerous other forms of public corruption and yet still feel secure in the knowledge that even if convicted of these serious crimes and thrown in jail, there will still be a state pension check sent their way every month for the rest of their lives. However, Assemblyman Buchwald noted that with enthusiastic bipartisan support of this legislation, including from all Assembly freshman, a new day is coming in Albany.
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