Public workers and elected officials in New Jersey who commit domestic-violence offenses would have to give up their taxpayer-funded pensions under legislation a veteran Republican lawmaker is getting ready to introduce in Trenton.
The pension forfeiture would apply to any public official found guilty of domestic violence — even when the offense doesn’t involve their government office or job — under a proposal floated yesterday by Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Ocean).
Dancer’s proposal goes a step further than the state’s current forfeiture law, which punishes public officials for offenses like corruption and sexual assault by taking away their pension benefits, but only if the underlying offense is related in some way to their office or job.
Domestic-violence incidents typically occur outside of work, but Dancer suggested the tougher approach to such offenses committed by a public official is warranted because it “certainly affects taxpayers, their trust and values.”
“These perpetrators assert whatever power they have to abuse their partner,” Dancer said. “This would strip them of some of that power and ensure they never benefit on the backs of taxpayers.”
Under current state law, elected officials or public workers who commit offenses like bribery, money laundering and official misconduct are stripped of their taxpayer-funded retirement benefits if they are found guilty by a court or have pleaded guilty before a judge. The pension forfeiture is in addition to other criminal penalties a public official could face because of their actions.
The forfeiture law is intended to discourage public officials from misbehaving by taking away pension benefits that often are a primary source of revenue for retirees after a long career in public office. Pension benefits vary, but they are generally calculated using a formula that factors in length of service and level of pay.
Current law applies only to offenses in the workplace
New Jersey’s pension-forfeiture law was recently expanded to include several new offenses, such as harassment, sexual assault and lewdness committed in the workplace. Sponsors of the legislation that Gov. Phil Murphy signed in July to expand the law said the changes were inspired by the recent #MeToo public-awareness campaign concerning harassment and sexual assault.
Nationally, one out of four women, and one out of nine men experience “severe intimate partner physical violence,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one of the groups that have been working to raise awareness about the dangers of domestic violence. Domestic violence also leads to higher rates of depression and suicide among those being victimized, the group said.
Dancer said the most recent statewide statistics for reports of domestic violence showed a 3% uptick between 2015 and 2016. He plans to formally introduce the pension-forfeiture legislation after the November election because the Assembly doesn’t have a quorum on its agenda in October. But he said he is announcing it this month given that this has been designated as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” (New Jersey has a full-time Legislature, but little typically happens in Trenton the month before a legislative election as lawmakers spend most of their time on campaign activities.)
If the measure becomes law, the pension forfeiture would be triggered when a public official is found guilty of offenses listed in the state’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which was signed into law in 1991, Dancer said. They include offenses like assault and stalking.
Dancer, who has served in the Assembly since 2002, said public officials who are convicted of domestic-violence offenses “do not deserve taxpayer-funded pensions and retirement benefits.”
“Most of these heinous crimes happen behind closed doors and I refuse to turn a blind eye when they are brought to light,” he said.