After more than four years of negotiations on ethics reform Senate Democrats and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell thought they had ironed out a compromise Wednesday morning.
In fact, Rell and the Democrats were so confident this afternoon that they sent out this press release and
this one saying they had reached an agreement, but once Republican lawmakers saw the draft language in the proposal everything was put on hold.
Much to Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero’s surprise the bill did not include pension revocation.
Over the last few days there had been debate amongst lawmakers in the House about whether pension revocation should be retroactive, but there was never any mention about taking out the provision altogether.
Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, attributed the implosion to partisan politics alleging that Republicans tanked the bill because newly elected Senator Rob Russo, R-Bridgeport, was not given the committee assignment he wanted.
“One hundred percent no,” McKinney said. He said the issue of committee assignments was between him and Williams.
McKinney said the Democratic amendment to the bill allows a judge to reduce a pension, but not revoke it. He said the new language allows an individual convicted of a crime while in office to use their pension to pay any fine, restitution, or cost of incarceration, in addition to any damages.
Democrats argued it had the effect of revoking someone’s pension because it typically would reduce it until there was nothing left, however, technically there’s a chance someone could receive a pension after all the court fines were paid.
McKinney pointed out that in January 2007 Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said “Outrageously, some convicted officials may use pension benefits to pay court-ordered penalties and restitution – payments supposed to compensate for their harm to the public. Enabling them to use public funds to pay for their crimes adds insult to injury.”
Democrats say they reached the compromise with the governor’s office because legal staff told them that revocation of pension violated the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, but couldn’t explain how. They said effectively paying the court fines and cost of incarceration would essentially drain someone of any pension.
Williams called the Republicans “obstructionists.” He said the Republicans were “thumbing their nose” at Rell, by introducing an amendment on pension revocation.
McKinney said just because there’s an amendment to a bill doesn’t mean it can’t be debated. Besides, “Why would we waste our staff’s time writing amendments for something we didn’t believe in?” Cafero said. He said this was not over a committee assignment.
Democrats said they wanted consensus on the bill. Williams wondered if Republicans wanted to “blow it up” to say legislature didn’t pass it, then blame it on the Democrats.
Rell’s spokesman Adam Liegeot emailed a statement late Wednesday evening saying, “This was a day of high emotions – but the Governor is absolutely committed to getting this bill passed.Tempers are short – but hopes are high. Governor Rell remains very hopeful about the chances for this bill. She will continue to work hard to see it move through the Legislature.”
It took some convincing to get Democratic staff to give the media a copy of the working draft both sides were referring to in the back and forth. Senate Republicans were given just one copy, which had been marked up by their attorney but they were willing to make copies. Then, just as the copier was about to start, the Democrats ponied up copies of the bill for the media.