As reported by NJSpotlight.com, inspired by the nationwide campaign against sexual harassment known as the #MeToo movement, lawmakers in New Jersey are proposing a costly new punishment for elected officials and public workers who use their positions to commit a sexual assault or related offense. A bill that was easily approved by a State Assembly committee last week would result in the complete loss of a taxpayer-funded pension by an elected official or public worker who commits a sexual assault or related offense that somehow involves their official position.
The measure would adopt the same approach currently written into state law to discourage acts of public corruption, and sponsors of the bill have drawn a direct line between the bill and the growing movement known by the social-media tag #MeToo that has raised public awareness about the issue of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
The pension-forfeiture bill approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee would amend the law that already requires a loss of taxpayer-funded retirement benefits for elected officials and public workers for offenses that primarily relate to instances of public corruption, like bribery and official misconduct. The legislation would add sexual assault, sexual contact, lewdness, and harassment to the list of offenses that result in a forfeiture of pension benefits, with the requirement that the offense be “related directly to the person’s performance in or circumstances flowing from, the specific public office or employment held by the person.” The pension forfeiture would occur when the person is either found guilty by a court of has pleaded guilty to one of the offenses that trigger the loss of retirement benefits, according to the bill.
By including the offense of harassment among the list of additional crimes that would trigger the loss of pension benefits, the impact of this bill upon public workers, to include public safety officers, has the potential to be significant. A harassment offense is typically charged in New Jersey as a petty disorderly person’s offense, resulting in just a fine. However, under the bill, a harassment conviction can now force an employee to lose a pension earned over a lifetime of work and potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, all public employees must be mindful of this if charged with such an offense should the bill become law.
Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain important updates regarding the progress of this bill and other issues involving New Jersey Public Safety Officers.