State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-West Manchester Township, is pushing for changes to state law that would stop former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and others convicted of sex crimes against minors from receiving state pensions.
“I just find that outrageous,” DePasquale said. “…We’ve got to find a way to make sure that he is not eligible for that pension. It is an absolute abuse of the public trust.”
DePasquale sent a memo to fellow members of the state House of Representatives last week, seeking co-sponsors for legislation to amend the pension forfeiture act, saying that Sandusky stands to keep his $58,898 annual state pension “because the crimes he committed did not disqualify him from doing so.”
“Under current Pennsylvania law, public officials and public employees that are convicted or plead guilty or no defense to any crime related to public office or public employment lose all rights to pension benefits,” DePasquale wrote. “While the law currently provides for crimes where school employees perpetrate sexual offenses against students, there are no provisions regarding loss of retirement or other benefit payments for public officials or public employees who commit sex crimes involving minors.”
DePasquale said his legislation would be applied retroactively, starting June 1.
“While I know many are concerned about the constitutionality of a retroactive change to pension laws, I feel that Mr. Sandusky should not be rewarded with a public pension, paid for by the good citizens of this Commonwealth, after committing such heinous crimes,” DePasquale said.
DePasquale said he hopes lawmakers take action on the planned legislation in the fall.
Other lawmakers have pushed for changes to the pension forfeiture law.
State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Camp Hill, whose district covers part of York County, is one of them.
Here’s what she wrote in her “Legislative Report” newsletter from this winter, when she was describing legislation she planned to introduce:
“This legislation will require that public officials and public employees forfeit their pensions if convicted of any infamous crime. Infamous crime is a term used in the Pennsylvania Constitution, which bars an individual from running for public office and has been interpreted by the courts to mean a felony conviction. The use of this term will permit some flexibility and allow for a common sense approach to each unique situation.”
State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, said he would support expanding the pension forfeiture criteria.
“In a case like Sandusky, he egregiously violated that trust,” Gillespie said. “…I was shocked to learn that he was receiving a pension of almost $60,000. …He loses everything as far as I’m concerned.”
State Rep. John Maher, a Republican from Allegheny County, is running against DePasquale in the state auditor general election.
Maher said if he was on the pension board, he would vote to get rid of Sandusky’s pension.
“He was a public official when the first … assaults occurred,” Maher said. “He was using his official capacity to exploit and assault these children. And, in my mind, that is public corruption.”
But Maher said that argument “would require a rather broad reading of existing law.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Stetler — who was convicted of using state resources to get Democrats elected to office — is likely to lose his state pension.
Updated at 2:25 p.m. July 3, 2012:
“I’m not a lawyer,” said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, but he said he’s seen other legislation that tried to apply changes in the law retroactively. “That’s pretty tough.”
Updated at 3:45 p.m. July 3, 2012: State Sen. Pat Vance, R- Camp Hill, said lawmakers looked at several ways of changing the pension forfeiture law. She said applying the “infamous crime” standard would fix a “quirk in the law.”
“It certainly makes sense to me to have it all the same,” Vance said. Her bill was referred to the Senate finance committee in February. But she said it hasn’t moved out of committee.
She said believes that changes in state law could still apply to someone, if the changes are passed before a person is sentenced.
Updated at 3:50 p.m.: State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township, is a co-sponsor of Vance’s legislation.
He said he would support DePasquale’s proposal.
“Even if it were to pass, I’m not sure it would stand a court challenge. But I would support it,” Waugh said. “Just in principle … I believe that if an individual is convicted of a felonious crime, that there’s a penalty that you pay and this is part of it.”
Updated at 3:54 p.m.: When I spoke with state Rep. John Maher on Tuesday, he took some shots at DePasquale. He said other lawmakers have been working on the pension forfeiture law issue.
“It seems to me that Gene is showing up for a parade and pretending he’s leading,” Maher said.
DePasquale’s response: “I’m pushing the issue. I’m not aware of anyone introducing anything like this since the Sandusky conviction. I think it’s disappointing that he’s not looking to cooperate with me on getting this done.”