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Bill to take public pensions from criminals dies
San Diego’s Juan Vargas did not support the measure
By Michael Gardner

Friday, May 6, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

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SACRAMENTO — A San Diego state Senator this week helped kill legislation aimed at preventing public employees convicted of certain job-related felonies from collecting the taxpayer-funded portion of their pensions.

Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, said in an interview with The Watchdog that he opposes singling out public employees for such treatment and felt it would punish innocent spouses who need the pension payments.

“It’s not fair,” said Vargas, a former San Diego councilman.

The bill drew strong union opposition, including several labor groups that cumulatively contributed about $9,200 to Vargas’ campaign for Senate last year. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/may/06/bill-to-take-public-pensions-from-criminals-dies/

Senate Bill 115 died in the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee after receiving just two Republican votes. Vargas and fellow Democrats Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino and Alex Padilla of Los Angeles abstained, leaving the bill one vote short of passage.

“Vargas could have put it out,” said Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, who carried the bill.

Strickland said he will meet with Republican leaders to push a version of the restrictions as part of proposed pension reforms tied to state budget negotiations.

“I’m not going to let this go,” he declared.

Strickland also noted that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has proposed a broader pension overhaul package that includes similar language.

Union groups that gave to Vargas and opposed the bill included the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, $3,900; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, $3,300; and the Association of California State Supervisors, $2,000.

In a letter opposing the legislation, the prison guard union said it “recognizes the public outrage when public employees are convicted of felonies and then retire and draw their pension. Nevertheless, we oppose this bill for two reasons.

“First, a similar standard is not imposed on employees in the private sector. Under existing laws, the justice system has adequate options for addressing any ill-gotten gains.

“More importantly, other persons, such as spouses, often have a property rights interest in an employee’s pension benefits. To deprive any person of their property rights because of some act of another party is simply wrong.”

Strickland said he wasn’t going to amend the bill to interfere with private sector retirement benefits.

“It’s public money we’re talking about,” he said. “It’s the people’s money.”

The measure grew out of the city of Bell scandal where public officials accused of taking outlandish salaries were in line for huge pensions as well.. Several Bell city employees are under criminal prosecution.

State law currently bars judges and elected officials from receiving public pensions if they are convicted of specified felonies.

Under Strickland’s bill, public employees would still receive their own money contributed for their pensiont, just not the taxpayer portion.

mike.gardner@uniontrib.com (916) 445-2934

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