Thankfully, this could change for future criminals if voters approve an amendment to the state constitution in November. This election year, New York state voters will have the opportunity to amend the State Constitution to permit the forfeiture of state pensions for those public officials convicted of a felony related to their public duties (e.g. bribery). The reform is overdue and will hopefully act as a deterrent to those officials who might otherwise be tempted to exploit their public positions for personal gain.
If polled, it is likely most people in New York would think this is a common-sense proposal and many would question why it has taken so long to institute such a change. There are two answers as to why it has taken so long. First, there was political resistance to instituting such a reform and, unfortunately, such resistance is all too common in Albany. Second, any process to amend the state constitution is lengthy and rightfully so. Back in 2009, I, and others, proposed to change the constitution to allow for pension forfeiture but that resolution was not considered in committee. Since then, there have been various resolutions introduced in both houses to require pension forfeiture for corrupt public officials who entered the retirement system prior to 2011 but they failed to gain support with the Assembly Democratic majority until 2016.
Because pension benefits are protected by the New York State Constitution, the state constitution must be amended in order for pension forfeiture to take effect. Moreover, before pension forfeiture could appear on the ballot, it had to be passed by two separately elected legislatures. The first time the pension forfeiture amendment resolution passed was in the spring of 2016 and it passed a second time in January 2017. Just to get the measure on the ballot, the procedure alone has taken almost two years.
It should be noted that the public’s vote on pension forfeiture is separate and apart from the question as to whether New York should hold a Constitutional Convention. That also is a question that will appear on this year’s ballot. However, whether to hold a Constitutional Convention is a separate question and people can vote to support pension forfeiture for public officials and also against the state holding a Constitutional Convention.
Given its popularity, I have every confidence that New Yorkers will vote in favor of the pension forfeiture. Many government reformers have long demanded this change. Just during the past 10 years, there have been more than 22 state officials who have either pled guilty or were found guilty of corruption-related criminal charges.
Passing this reform amendment will help bring accountability to Albany. Serving the public is a privilege and an honor. With this amendment in place, it is a good step toward restoring public trust and enacting sensible punishments that help provide justice. To view the questions that will be on this year’s ballot, visit the New York State Board of Elections site at https://www.elections.ny.gov/ProposedAmendments.html. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.