Measure would strip convicted lawmakers of retirement pay

Issue arose in Dixon case

'bad boy' clause awaits final OK in Senate, House action

February 17, 2010|By Annie Linskey | Baltimore Sun reporter

The Maryland Senate adopted a measure Wednesday to strip state lawmakers of retirement pay if they are convicted of crimes related to their public duties, an issue that came to their attention after former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon kept her $83,000 a year city pension as she stepped down as part of a plea agreement for stealing gift cards.

The proposal was backed by Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican running for Congress, and was the only successful part of a broader package he proposed that affected lawmaker compensation.

"The average person trying to get through this economy looks at [Dixon] and goes, 'How in the world could you use public taxpayer dollars to pay over $80,000 to a person who has basically admitted to a crime of public trust?'" Harris said on the Senate floor.

But the amendment adopted by the Senate repeats the loophole that allowed Dixon to keep her benefits despite a jury verdict of guilt on a theft charge: the pension is stripped only if the lawmaker is convicted. In Dixon's case, a judge granted probation before judgment, a determination that allowed her to maintain her pension.

The so-called "bad boy" clause was attached to a resolution rejecting a raise for lawmakers, and awaits final approval in the Senate. It would then go to the House of Delegates.

Harris also attempted to reduce lawmaker pay by 2 percent, saying that lawmakers should face the same pay reductions that furloughed state workers endure.

That was rejected, with Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, pointing out that Harris was one of the few lawmakers who did not take voluntary furlough days last year. Harris said he instead gave money to charity.

The Senate also rejected Harris' request for more time to revise an amendment that would have moved lawmakers' pensions to a 401(k)-type plan.

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