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By Gabriel Rom

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced a bill last week that would prohibit lawmakers convicted of felonies from receiving pensions for the time they served after having committed those crimes.

According to recent opinion polls, Avella’s legislation has considerable popular backing.

In a Quinnipiac University poll from March 2015, 76 percent of voters in New York state agreed that elected officials should lose their pensions if convicted of a felony.

“Allowing convicted felons to collect five- or six-figure pensions at the expense of the state ruins the very integrity of this legislative body,” Avella said in a statement.

In October, Avella introduced a bill to ban state legislators from collecting salary and a pension at the same time—also known as “double dipping”—which officials who are at least 65 years old and were elected before 1995 are eligible to do. The bill was subsequently rejected by the Assembly.

In hope of side-stepping previous legislative hurdles, Avella’s bill includes a provision that would allow lawmakers to still collect the pension that accrued until the point of their committed felony. Calling the provision a “penalty proportionate to the crime,” officials would not be stripped of the pension earned while acting in full faith of the law.

“Let this be the year that ethical pension reform passes both the Senate and Assembly,” Avella said. “Let this be the year that we as lawmakers prove that we can hold ourselves and our colleagues to a high standard and not allow those have acted with impropriety to continue to benefit off the taxpayer,”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would strip pensions from elected officials convicted of official misconduct. The governor said it adds “insult to injury” that taxpayers are forced to pay for pensions for elected officials convicted of corruption, including those of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Skelos’ annual state pensions is $95,831, while Silver’s is $79,222 respectively.

“My bill, which is part of my ethics reform package, fixes this oversight and I think very fairly draws a line in the sand: If you’ve committed a felony, the pension which you have accumulated since you’ve broken the law becomes forfeit,” Avella concluded.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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