An act that strips New Jersey public officials of their pensions and retirement benefits after being found guilty or pleading guilty to crimes of corruption will be expanded under a new amendment to now incorporate those convicted of harassment, sexual assault, sexual contact, or lewdness. The proposed legislation, that was passed by the New Jersey Senate in a 37-0 vote, will now head to Governor Murphy for his signature.
If the legislation is enacted into law, a person who holds or has held any public office, position, or employment, elective, or appointive, under the government of the State of New Jersey, or political subdivision thereof, who is convicted of a crime or offense or touches such office, would forfeit all of the pension or retirement benefits earned during his or her employment or appointment. The proposed law defines a crime or offense that “involves or touches such office, position or employment” as meaning that “the crime or offense related directly to the person’s performance in, or circumstances flowing from, the specific public office or employment held by the person.
The proposed law would expand the criminal conduct subject to the law to twenty four (24) enumerated criminal offenses, that include the following: criminal coercion, theft by deception that exceeds $10,000, theft by extortion, theft by failure to make required disposition of property received if it exceeds of $10,000, criminal bribery, money laundering, false contract payment claims, bribery in official matters, threats and other improper influence in official and political matters, unlawful official business transaction where interest is involved, acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by public servant for official behavior, offer of unlawful benefit to public servant for official behavior, perjury, tampering with witnesses, tampering with public records or information, compounding, official misconduct, speculating or wagering on official action or information, pattern of official misconduct, corruption of public resources in excess of $500,000, harassment, sexual assault, sexual contact or lewdness.
The amendment comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement which has swept the nation on social media. The amended bill was introduced by Senator Kristen Corrado (R- Passaic) and has found strong bipartisan support among both Democrats and Republicans. The bill was passed without a nay vote in the state assembly last year, and on May 30th the state senate also passed the bill without a nay vote.
This strong display of bipartisan support highlights the demand for real reforms by the public to address unacceptable sexual aggression in our society. The bill will now go to Governor Murphy’s office to sign into law as the state awaits to see if he will make good on his earlier signals of support for the #MeToo movement. Based upon the earlier voting numbers of both houses in the New Jersey legislature, the bill has enough support to override a veto should Governor Murphy reject the bill. This all but assures that the amended bill will be enacted and codified into New Jersey law.
Should this bill become a law it would be a strong example for both individual states and the national government to follow. With the addition of this amendment the state is taking an affirmative step to combat sexual misconduct in its ranks and is signalling to the larger public that this kind of actions will not be tolerated by the state. With the penalty of forfeiture of retirement benefits and pensions the state is elevating the severity of these crimes to be the equivalent to corruption by state officials. The effects of this penalty upon conviction are immediate and to reverse their effect requires a reversal of conviction by the court; and for the court to even stay the order prior to this reversal would require the court to be “clearly convinced that there is a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” for a reversal to succeed. The bill will take immediate effect if Governor Murphy signs it into law, and will immediately signal to the rest of the state and the nation that New Jersey does not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form.