The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 15, 2013

Panel OKs bill expanding crimes that could mean loss of pensions

HARRISBURG — A bill aimed at making it easier for the state to boot government employees out of the pension system if they are convicted of crimes has been tabled because lawmakers are in no hurry to publicly argue about what crimes are serious enough to justify losing an important employee benefit, the author of the reform bill said Thursday.

Pennsylvania government employees only lose their pensions if they use their government jobs to break the law or commit a number of specific offenses, chiefly related to theft and fraud. Sex offenses only result in a loss of pension if the employee is a school employee who has victimized a student.

The state pension system argued that Jerry Sandusky was a “de facto” school employee when he targeted young people he had met through the Second Mile charity he founded while serving as an assistant football coach at Penn State. Sandusky has appealed the pension system’s determination that he should forfeit his $59,000 a year benefit.

The legislation authored by Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union, adds a list of “crimes of violence” that would allow a government employee to be booted from the pension system. The bill also would provide for pension forfeiture after any conviction for a felony.

Keller said that he was told that the legislation was being tabled because there is concern that some of the offenses described in the bill are classified as misdemeanors, which, in the judicial system are not considered as serious as felonies.

Keller’s bill adds homicide, aggravated assault, rape, incest, sexual abuse of children, arson, kidnapping, robbery and burglary. In addition to the crimes of violence, the bill also would add theft and all the prohibitions included in the Pennsylvania Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, which includes offenses such as conflicts of interest and accepting improper gifts.

“It’s broad, but I made it broad for a reason. The public shouldn’t have to pay for the pensions of people who violated the public trust,” Keller said.

A first-degree misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. A third-degree felony, the lowest grade of felony, carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years and a top fine of $15,000.

Keller authored the legislation after learning about a case in which a former state police trooper was arrested on charges that he had exposed himself on a webcam while chatting with someone he thought was a young girl.

In that case, Douglas Sversko, 45, was approved for a $34,812 a year pension earned from his 18 years of service in the state police.

He pleaded guilty to unlawful contact with a minor and illegal use of a computer and was sentenced to five years probation.

Both of those crimes are felonies, Keller noted.

Under Pennsylvania’s pension forfeiture rules, even if an employee is kicked out of the system, he or she gets to keep the money the employee paid into the pension. The employee only forfeits the employer contribution – that is, the amount that is provided by tax dollars.

“It’s a shame we even have to have this discussion, Keller said.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • District Deaths July 31, 2014

    July 30, 2014

  • Smaller payout to seniors urged

    State Lottery officials say less means more for seniors.

    July 29, 2014

  • Portage ambulance aid will add portable CPR device, other tools

    Federal funding awarded to Portage Area Ambulance Association will soon put “a third man” alongside their two-person crews when emergencies occur, ambulance operations manager Edward Nelson said.

    July 29, 2014

  • paint_twp building Paint Township considers offering part of building for rent

    Four years after Paint Township built an addition at the Basin Drive building to house its growing police department, much of the new space likely will be offered for rent this fall because the township supervisors say it's no longer needed.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Old Rockwood hotel will soon be history

    The historic – but dilapidated – Merchants Hotel in Rockwood is expected to be razed soon.
    On Tuesday, Somerset County’s three commissioners unanimously agreed to a demolition plan for the building, which was constructed in the 1880s. The arrangement calls for a private citizen, William Nair, to tear down the structure at 703 Main St. in exchange for being allowed to keep any salvageable materials.

    July 29, 2014

  • Tribune Treasure!

    July 30, 2014

  • ATV blast ready to roll at Rock Run

    Organizers are keeping the spirit of the Fisher’s ATV Reunion at Rock Run Recreation Area alive despite losing the support of the award-winning Outdoor Channel TV show “Fisher’s ATV World.” Now called the Rock Run ATV Summer Blast, the event will continue to offer demonstration rides, motor competitions, product vendors, live music, camping and trail riding.

    July 29, 2014

  • Culvert 1 Preservationists use age-old method at historic site

    Preservation work on two historic culverts associated with the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site has been completed. The culverts were reconstructed using a variety of techniques, including dry stone masonry, which was used to build the culverts more than 180 years ago.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local briefs 7/30/2014

    July 29, 2014

  • Officer, civilian motorist injured in crash

    A Johnstown police officer who was responding to an emergency and one other driver were taken to the hospital after they were injured in a three-vehicle accident around 5:40 p.m. Tuesday on Railroad Street at the intersection with Clinton Street and Church Avenue.
    The Johnstown Fire Department said that the three occupants of the third vehicle were not injured.
     

    July 29, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
House Ads