It’s perhaps a reflection of the sordid history of politics and politicians in Louisiana that nothing has been done about this so far, but a couple of bills pre-filed for this year’s legislative session would close a hole in state law which allows convicted political crooks to keep earning government benefits from their jail cells.
State Rep. Tony Ligi’s HB69 and Sen. Conrad Appel’s SB11 are identical, and they would give the legislature the ability to bar or curtail retirement and other benefits to politicians and other public employees convicted of one of 35 offenses related to corruption in office like perjury, extortion or contract fraud.
The language of the bills, in pertinent part, reads as follows:
Forfeiture of Retirement Benefits; Felony Convictions. The receipt of a public retirement benefit shall be expressly conditioned upon the rendition of honorable service by the public official or employee. Notwithstanding any provision of this constitution or of any home rule charter to the contrary, the legislature may provide for the forfeiture of all or part of the benefits from a public retirement system, plan, or fund in this state by any person who holds or held any public office or employment and who is convicted of a felony associated with and committed during his service in such public office or employment. The legislature may provide for the application of all or part of any forfeited benefits to the unfunded accrued liability of the system, plan, or fund.
Passage of the legislation would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November authorizing the legislature to strip benefits from public servants whose convictions have been upheld on appeal.
“I would hope this would serve as a deterrent” to keep public employees and officials honest, Ligi told the Times-Picayune. The crooks “reflect badly on all of us” in politics or public service.
Widows and children aren’t subject to the forfeiture provisions, and money the individuals in question may have paid into a retirement program isn’t affected; only the publicly-funded portion. Public funds forfeited by the crooks would go back into the retirement pool – creating a quirky situation whereby if the public pension funds should become underfunded one way to shore them up would be to take down as many sleazeballs as possible.
This is good legislation, and it should pass easily – but whether it will is a real question. Two years ago several bills authored by Ligi, current U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and others addressing this situation failed to achieve final passage. We’ll see what opposition the current legislation gets – and from whom.