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Pension Forfeiture Expansion Garners Wave Of Support

Matt Rourke
Lawmakers are looking into changing what crimes would cause state employees to lose their pension.

 A bill to expand Pennsylvania's pension forfeiture laws is gaining traction after stalling out last legislative session.

In large part, the movement is thanks to a controversial, high-profile appeal in which a convicted former lawmaker was given his pension back.  

Robert Mellow, a former Democratic state Senator, lost his more than $245,000-a-year retirement income after pleading guilty to felony corruption in 2012.

But he appealed, and now he has the money back.

In a 6-5 vote, the State Employee Retirement System board decided his offense didn't fit the crimes prescribed in Act 140, the state's current pension forfeiture law.

That's because the law only demands pensions be forfeited if a state employee commits one of a list of specific state crimes related to their job. If the crime is federal, according to the examiner at Mellow's hearing, "a comparison of the applicable burdens of proof...and elements of the crime must support a finding that the two statutes are substantially the same."

Representative Scott Petri, a Bucks County Republican, says that's the problem with the law--it allows too many ways out.

"Many times, prosecutors and defense attorneys are having defendants plead to crimes that aren't on the current list." He said. "The typical one is conflict of interest."

He added, "we can think of many instances where people have been convicted of serious misuse of government trust of funds, but they still receive their pensions."

Petri is sponsoring a bill that would require pension forfeiture if a state worker is convicted of any crime related to their job--state or federal.

It stalled in the Senate last session, but has passed the House twice.

Petri said this time he's fairly sure the Senate will approve it and get it to Governor Tom Wolf's desk before the end of the year.

Wolf supports the bill, and has urged the legislature to send it to him. 

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