Tougher state pension forfeiture law merited for abuse of public

We doubt there are many things that anger citizen taxpayers more than having public officials and government employees convicted of crimes retaining their pensions, especially when those pensions are so much more generous than those of almost all private-sector employees.

So we are heartened by recent, overwhelmingly approved legislation that makes it harder for officials and government employees to break the law and retain their pensions.

The state House voted 194-1 to approve legislation that applies the pension forfeiture law to state and federal felonies and other crimes that could result in at least five years in prison.

The legislation also would result in forfeiture of pensions at the time a defendant pleads guilty or no contest, or is found guilty by a judge or jury.

The current law imposes pension forfeiture at the time of sentencing, leading to yawning time periods when someone who has lost their criminal case continues to receive benefits.

The genesis for the bill is the case of former state Rep. Bob Mellow, a Blakely County Democrat and longtime state legislative power broker who lost a $246,000-a-year pension after his 2012 plea to a conspiracy charge for using Senate staff to work on political campaigns. In December 2017, the State Employees’ Retirement Board reinstated Mellow’s pension benefits after his guilty plea.

Mellow’s attorneys successfully argued to the pension board that his case did not match up with state crimes that prompt pension forfeitures. That argument has now been removed by this stricter and more defined pension forfeiture legislation.

It’s about time.

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