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Guest View: State pensions for convicted public servants

When it comes to cases of public malfeasance that will raise the ire of North Carolina taxpayers, former New Hanover County ABC administrator Billy Williams may be the winner.

Williams, who gamed the system to pay himself an outrageous salary over the years, also bilked taxpayers out of $43,000, using public money set for work at an ABC store to help pay for his garage.

Although Williams is now a state convict with a suspended jail sentence of up to 24 months, he will retain his $195,000-a-year state pension. Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, has a bill before the Senate that could stop such outrages in the future.

Howard, whose bill has already passed the House, wants to cut off pensions for people convicted of crimes related to their government service. We applaud the effort.

When it comes to establishing special conditions of criminal penalties, care is very important. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law, and that complicates Howard’s efforts.

But Howard appears to have most of the concerns covered here. The convict would not lose any contribution he or she personally made to the pension system, and the convict would earn interest for the years that money was in the system. The convict would lose only the state rewards from the pension system.

Public officials and employees who committed crimes unrelated to their public service would not suffer loss of pensions. But narrowly defined as it is, it appears that Howard has fashioned a separate offense for public employees when they commit offenses related to their public work.

We’d like to hear a spirited debate of the constitutionality of this bill in the spring.

One policy attribute of the bill does concern us. It is possible that a convict’s dependents could become destitute during the convict’s prison term, thus going on the government dole. Hence, we’d like Howard to research whether provisions could be made to guarantee that any returned pension contributions could go toward the support of the convict’s dependents.

Howard has a great idea here if it can be done constitutionally.

— from the Winston-Salem Journal

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