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Lawmakers grapple with pension forfeiture after Silver sentencing

ALBANY Even after being sentenced to federal prison on felony public corruption charges, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will still collect his full pension.

It's a fact that is angering many people who live and pay taxes to our state. A recent Siena Research Institute poll showed 77 percent of New Yorkers support withholding pensions from lawmakers convicted of public corruption crimes.

Still, taxpayers will be forking over nearly $80,000 a year for Silver's public pension and more than $95,000 a year for former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' pension. Skelos will also be sentenced to federal prison next week on federal corruption charges.

Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is pushing for a constitutional amendment bill that would keep this from happening in the future.

"There is no doubt that that bill needs to come to the floor and it needs to get passed immediately," McLaughlin said.

The bill would have to pass the legislature two sessions in a row and then go to voters.

"If convicted you should automatically be stripped of that. I don't think it's fair for [Sheldon Silver to collect his pension] and he sets a bad example for all the state workers," Albany resident Ron Miles said.

State workers actually seem to be the hang up. Democrats and Republicans seem to agree that convicted politicians should lose their pensions but some lawmakers are a little more hesitant about this applying to everyone who works for the state.

"There has been a concern about the impact on family members, [] what one person does shouldn't necessarily impact or make the spouse or children, especially minor children, destitute," Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy said.

Still, McLaughlin says pension forfeiture needs to happen.

"We have no way of stopping convicted, corrupt politicians from collecting their pension until we get this bill passed and get it out to the people of New York to amend the constitution. [] I have no doubt the people of New York will pass that overwhelmingly," McLaughlin said.

If pension forfeiture passes this session it has to pass the session after that and then go to voters, which means New York would not see this become law until at least the fall of 2017.

In the meantime, the justice system been able to get around this not being law by imposing stiff penalties on politicians convicted of corruption. The judge in the Silver case imposed a $1.75 million fine in addition to the more than $5 million he has to pay in restitution, essentially taking away the nearly $80,000 a year pension Silver is now collecting.

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