OKLAHOMA CITY (April 14, 2009) – Disgraced and crooked Oklahoma politicians would lose their state pensions under legislation that now awaits the governor’s signature.
Senate Bill 899, by state Sen. Glenn Coffee and state Rep. Jason Nelson (see video), would force public officials to forgo a state pension if they are convicted of a crime related to abuse of office. The bill applies to any felony for bribery, corruption, forgery, perjury or any other crime related to the duties of office, or related to campaign contributions or campaign financing.
"This legislation sends a simple message: Elected officials will be held to a higher standard and crooked politicians who violate the public trust will not have a golden parachute when they get caught," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.
The bill’s provisions would apply to all state, county and municipal elected officials, appointees, and employees.
Senate Bill 899, which is similar to House legislation also authored by Nelson, passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today on a 91-3 vote. It previously passed the state Senate 46-0. It now proceeds to Gov. Brad Henry to be signed into law.
The legislation is driven in part by the controversy surrounding the outsized pension benefits paid to former state Sen. Gene Stipe, a McAlester Democrat who resigned from office in March 2003 after five decades in office.
Shortly after his resignation, Stipe signed a federal plea agreement related to charges that he funneled more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to the unsuccessful 1998 congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.
The state Supreme Court has since ruled that Stipe remains eligible for his state retirement benefits because the plea agreement contained a provision saying Stipe’s conduct did not relate to his duties as a state senator and were therefore not a violation of his oath of office.
Stipe is expected to receive a monthly benefit of more than $7,000.
"Any public official involved in criminal activity has proven himself unworthy of state benefits," Nelson said. "It’s time Oklahoma instituted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to public corruption. Crooked politicians should not receive any monetary award from the state, let alone a retirement income that dramatically exceeds the average earnings of most Oklahomans."