01 May 2006

Committee action, May 1: SB 526, SB 59, SB 60, SB 669

Sen. Walter Boasso is back with a bill trying to make the Teachers Retirement System and Louisiana State Employees Retirement System solvent more quickly. SB 526 is an attempt to prevent actions made by government that would increase the estimated $12 billion in unfunded accrued liabilities. Amendments actually to pay it down by requiring a greater portion of investment gains to go to paying it down if the Legislature kicks in some money as well were adopted

Boasso pointed out over a billion dollars in the long term would be saved by the amendments, even if he had no official support for the bill from the governor. However, in great contrast to Boasso’s past efforts to make the system fairer to taxpayers, less absurdly generous, and more efficient, these changes heartily were lauded by board members of the retirement systems. Thus, it passed unanimously.

SB 59, SB 60, and SB 669 by Sen. Art Lentini would prevent elected and other public officials in a state or local retirement system who have been convicted or its equivalent of certain felonies in performing official duties from drawing retirement benefits.

Lentini noted some objections, beginning with the “innocent” spouse or children argument. He said to make these exceptions would moot the effectiveness of the law by encouraging marriages and children of convenience to avoid the consequences, and pointed out this exception doesn’t apply to other punishments for other felonies. He also said he didn’t think convictions might be harder to get because of sympathetic juries might not want to “punish” spouses and minors. Indeed, he thought this would become a tremendous deterrent, knowing that you and your family could lose all retirement benefits.

Opponents did bring up the “innocent” issue, saying there would be fewer pleas and more resources used in prosecution. They also argued that existing penalties were effective as deterrents, and that those going into the systems would not be aware that additional penalties exist through these bills. They also said since some of the contributions came forcibly from employees that it could be construed as an unconstitutional taking of property. And, it could make other legal proceedings such as divorce settlements messier.

Lentini said that corrupt officials should not be entitled to lifetime benefits, and that tough sentencing in other areas wasn’t being questioned. If there was a problem in prosecution, then the prosecutor can plea down. “If this is feel-good legislation, it is for the taxpayer.” He also disputed that legal proceedings in other matters would be made more complicated. He noted that the automatic first-felony pardon procedure currently part of law would not be affected by this bill. Boasso wondered what happened to those pardoned, but Lentini said that would work only if new money were put in the system.

Sen. Jay Dardenne, however, could not see how a community-property arrangement would not be affected by the bill. Lentini pointed out that restitution paid as a punishment for other crimes was not affected by this, so it should be treated the same for this measure.

SB 59 was unanimously reported. SB 669 was likewise. And SB 60 completed the sweep.

“Concerning those amendments to combine all the boards … oh, that was last year.”Sen. Gerry Theunissen, joking about Boasso’s past efforts.

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