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Should lawmakers who break the law lose their pension?

ALBANY -- US Attorney Preet Bharara was the first to testify in front of the state`s newest public ethics governing body, the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. In his testimony Bharara said it was "a galling injustice" that state officials convicted of a crime, and even imprisoned, collect a pension.

Under New York`s current constitution convicted felons are allowed to still draw a pension, even if they are in jail. Bharara said although the law was "partially fixed" a few years ago must "succumb to common sense".

"Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension payed for by the very people they betrayed in office," Bharara testified.

To address the issue the US Attorney said he would find ways around the state`s constitution to get the pensions. The office would look into levying fines consistent with a pensions payment, use the payments to pay restitution, and scale back the pension by the amount accrued during the time a lawmaker was committing a crime, Bharara said.

Federal law allows for claw backs of pensions, and using pensions are restitution, Bharara added.

In order to change the state`s constitution two consecutive legislatures would need to pass a law amending the portion dealing with pensions. Taxpayers would then need to approve the measure as well, on election night, during a referendum vote.

Senator Neil Breslin, D- Delmar, introduced legislation earlier this year that would take the pension away from lawmakers convicted of a felony. The bill never made it to the floor for vote, it stalled in committee.

"I think if it was on the floor it would pass because people would have to think twice about voting to allow someone to have a pension after they have committed a felony," Breslin said.

The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption plans to meet several times over the next few months before issuing a report in December.
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