Under Pending Bill, Punishment could Fit the Crime

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In light of recent turmoil in the Department of State Police (DSP), Governor Baker has called for not only revoking the pensions of the troopers involved in the overtime scandal, but to be harder on the forfeiture of pensions.

In recent months, troopers who are under investigation have rushed to retire to keep their pensions safe; some have even begun to receive benefits. According to the Boston Globe, since the investigation began, at least 17 troopers have retired, many of whom have received hefty buyouts for unused vacation and sick days.

However, these pensions might not be safe if state lawmakers pass Bill S2074 in time. The legislative session ended on July 31st, but the investigation is ongoing, so there is still time for the bill to pass once session begins again in January. This bill will eliminate the all-or-nothing system  currently in place, under which state employees convicted of a crime either keep their full pension or forfeit it entirely. Lawmakers want to see this system end because more often than not, the convict will appeal for his or her full pension, arguing that forfeiting their full pension constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” under the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appeals by these employees are usually successful and they continue receiving pension benefits.

Under the new bill, retirement systems would have the ability to investigate each crime individually and determine an appropriate punishment. An employee could receive one third, two thirds, or a minimum allowance from their pensions if the jury sees fit. This minimum allowance would be equal to what is provided to a person of the minimum age for “Group 1” employees, who make up the majority of state workers. Judges would determine the amount based on a series of factors, including the severity of the crime, monetary damage suffered by the state, and the degree of public trust that had been violated.

If this bill passes, some of the troopers involved in the overtime scandal may not enjoy the retirement they planned on.

Most recently, three troopers were arrested for overtime fraud, and two had processed their retirement applications before their investigations began. David Wilson of Charlton, and Paul Cesan of Southwick ended their careers with annual compensation greater than $200,000, according to MassOpenBooks. In 2017, Wilson brought in $82,359 in overtime, while Cesan earned over $35,000.

There is very little transparent data about the pension calculation for state troopers, so we cannot accurately calculate the potential pensions the troopers will receive. However, according to the Boston Globe, the pensions should range from $68,000-$105,000 per year.

The bill is currently in the House of Ways and Means Committee and will hopefully move forward once a new session starts in January.

While allowing those convicted of crimes keep any portion of their pensions may seem overly lenient, the bill is a step in the right direction.  The threat of losing a good portion of one’s pension is a far better deterrent to bad behavior than the status quo, under which the odds are good that a ne’er-do-well’s full pension will be protected.