Alabama and Maine Adopt Pension Forfeiture Laws

Twenty-five of the 50 states now have laws that revoke the public pensions of convicted criminals.
by | May 22, 2012
 

In February, Governing compiled the first comprehensive database on state pension forfeiture laws, which accompanied an investigation of the policy’s history. At the time, 23 states had pension forfeiture laws, but in the past two months, two states have been added to the list: Alabama and Maine. That means half of the 50 states now have policies that prevent convicted criminals from receiving a public pension.

The Alabama Legislature passed Senate Bill 213 on May 9, and Gov. Robert Bentley signed the legislation into law last week. The bill’s language followed a similar pattern to other state laws: members of the state retirement system can have their pension revoked (and be refunded whatever they contributed to the account) for conviction of a felony related to their official duties.

And like other states, Alabama lawmakers were spurred to action by a scandal that resulted in a disgraced official receiving a taxpayer-funded retirement. State Sen. Arthur Orr, who sponsored the legislation, told Governing that he was motivated by the case of Roy Johnson, a former state university system chancellor. Johnson pled guilty to 15 federal corruption charges in 2008, according to the Opelika-Auburn News, and was sentenced to 78 months in prison in 2010. Despite the conviction, he has continued to receive an annual pension worth $132,000, according to the Birmingham News.

“Hopefully, the bill will act as a deterrent,” Orr said in an email.

Maine legislators were also prompted to pass LD 1831 because of a high-profile scandal. The bill, introduced by State Rep. Les Fogel in February and signed by Gov. Paul LePage in April, was nicknamed “the Violette bill,” according to the Boston Globe, after former Maine Turnpike Executive Director Paul Violette. Violette pled guilty in February to stealing more than $200,000 in public funds for his personal use between 2003 and 2010, according to the Portland Press-Herald. The law cannot be applied to Violette retroactively, but he was sentenced to more than three years in prison in April and has agreed to pay restitution based on his pension.

Following the example of states such as Arizona, the Maine law gives the courts the discretion to revoke a convicted public official’s pension upon conviction of a felony. A judge could also elect to award some or all of the pension to an official’s spouse or family, depending on the circumstances.

“Violation of the public trust is a serious offense,” Fogel said in a statement when he introduced the bill.

Alabama and Maine fit the pattern that Governing identified in the original report: pension forfeiture laws are almost always the result of headline-grabbing controversies. They are also usually passed after it is too late to apply the policy to the official whose misdeeds led to its adoption.

"If there's a high-profile case, and it looks like somebody who's committed a dastardly crime is now going to be supported in his or her old age at the expense of the taxpayer, people take a look at that," Ron Snell, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, previous told Governing. "In the years that I've been looking at this, I can't spot any trend other than that."

State Pension Forfeiture Laws

 
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Pension Forfeiture Laws
 
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State Code Description
Alabama SB 213 Pensions of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of felony related to public duties.
Alaska AS 37.10.310 Pensions of public officers, legislators and legislative directors can be revoked if convicted of any crime in connection with official duties; may award forfeited pension to a spouse, dependent, or former spouse.
Arizona 13-713 Pensions of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony related to official duties.
California AB 1044, Chapter 322, Statutes of 2005 Pensions of elected public officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony relating to official duties.
Connecticut Chapter 11a Sec. 1-110 Pensions of public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of any crime relating to official duties.
Florida FRS 112.3173. Pensions of public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of any felony involving a "breach of public trust."
Georgia 47-1-21 Pensions can be revoked for public employees and officials convicted of any crime related to official duties.
Illinois ILCS 40 5/2-156 Pensions of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony related to official duties. Trustees of individual pension fund make final decision after conviction.
Kentucky KS161.470 Pensions of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony related to official duties.
Maine Sec. 12 MRSA 17062 Pension of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of crime related to official duties.
Maryland Joint Resolution 4 of 2010 Pensions of state legislators can be revoked for conviction of any felony committed while in office or a misdemeanor related to a member's official duties and responsibilities.
Massachusetts Title IV, Chapter 32, Section 15 Pensions of plan members can be revoked for conviction of any criminal offense related to official duties.
Michigan MCL 800.401; MCL 38.2701 Pensions can be withheld to pay for cost of incarceration. Court may withhold pensions of employees convicted of any felony arising from official duties.
Missouri 104.1084.8 Pensions of state legislators or statewide elected officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony related to official duties.
New Jersey 43:1-3.1 Pensions of public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of any crime related to their public service.
New York Article 3-B of Retirement and Social Security Law Pensions of certain public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of certain felonies related to public service.
North Carolina 135-18.10 Pensions of public employees and officials can be revoked for conviction of specific list of felonies.
Ohio 2929.192 Pensions of public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of specific list of felonies during time of public service.
Oklahoma 51-24.1 Pensions of public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of any felony during time of public service.
Pennsylvania Act 140 Pensions for public officials and employees can be revoked for conviction of specific list of crimes.
Rhode Island 36-10.1-3 Pensions of public officials or employees can be revoked for conviction of any crime related to official duties.
South Dakota 20:16:15:28 Administrative rule dictates pension must be forfeited if member is convicted of any crime involving embezzlement for pension commission funds or property.
Tennessee 8-35-124 Pensions of public employees can be revoked if convicted of any crime related to official duties in either state or federal court.
Virginia 51.1-124.13 Pensions of public officials can be revoked for conviction of any felony in association with the performance of public duties.
West Virginia 5-10-A-1 Pensions of public officials or employees can be revoked if service is deemed "less than honorable."

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