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New legislation could strip benefits from public officials

Jackson-capitol_view_rgbJACKSON — New legislation pending in the Mississippi House of Representatives will require that state and local public employees who are convicted of or plead guilty to any type of public corruption to forfeit their public retirement benefits, according to a press release from the House of Representatives.

Rep. Greg Haney, in sponsoring House Bill 31, said he does not believe public employees should be eligible to enjoy public retirement benefits after “breaching the public trust” by committing an employment-related felony.

“Previously, retirement-eligible public employees who were convicted of or pled guilty to an employment- related felony have not had to sacrifice their public retirement benefits,” Rep. Haney said. “This should not be allowed to continue. It flies in the face of every taxpaying Mississippian since the state or local public employer pays a percentage into the retirement system for public employees. That money should be forfeited to the public retirement system.”

Rep. Haney said the court hearing the case involving public employees who are found guilty of or pled guilty to a job-related felony occurring after July 1, 2015, will conduct a hearing and render the final decision as to whether a person will forfeit their retirement benefits.

“After the judge has ruled on the status of the public employee’s retirement benefits, the public employee will not forfeit their retirement benefits until after all appeals have been heard,” continued Rep. Haney. “We included this provision to ensure due process. The bill does not contain retroactive language and will not affect those already charged with such crimes.”

Records at the State Auditor’s Office show 145 public officials and employees in Mississippi have pled guilty or been convicted of some form of unlawful use of public funds in the past six years. Some of these are currently serving/or have been sentenced to a prison term, and those who were retirement eligible continue to receive benefits.

Rep. Haney said upon passage of the new legislation and the court’s final ruling, the funds that convicted public employees have contributed to the retirement system would be reimbursed to them, minus interest earned and without the public employer’s contributions on behalf of the employees.

“This proposal is not to punish, but to serve as a deterrent to employees whose salaries are being paid by taxpayers,” he said. “Hopefully, the threat of forfeiting future retirement benefits will be in the forefront of an individual’s thought process when considering misusing public funds. Enactment of this legislation has the potential of saving the public retirement systems hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year and even millions of dollars over the lifetime of felonious public retirees.”

Rep. Haney is a member of the House Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee and feels he is charged with making this piece of legislation a reality in Mississippi. Thirty-seven states currently have policies in place that forfeit retirement or garnish retirement of public pensions in at least one form as prescribed by state law.

During the 2013 and 2014 Legislative Sessions, the State Auditor was instrumental in getting measures passed that prohibit public employment of persons found guilty or who pled guilty to misusing public funds.

Haney’s proposal, in its current form, was drafted with input from the Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Office of the State Auditor, and the Attorney General’s Office. If passed, it will become law on July 1, 2015, and apply to members of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Supplemental Legislative Retirement System, and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol Retirement System.

 

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