Assemblyman Cameron Smyth announced today that he will be introducing a constitutional amendment that will prohibit convicted felons from receiving their pension benefits.
The legislation stems from recent articles about Mark Berndt, a teacher in Los Angeles who faces 23 counts of lewd conduct with students in his elementary school classroom. Because Berndt resigned before district officials could fire him, he retains lifetime health benefits, along with a monthly pension of nearly $4,000.
“It’s despicable that our tax dollars are subsidizing the existence of a sex predator that preyed on children in his classroom,” said Smyth. “While some will argue that he earned his benefits through decades of teaching, those were decades he spent terrorizing children who trusted him. When someone uses their position to commit a felony, they should forfeit the other benefits associated with their employment.”
Smyth’s Assembly Constitutional Amendment, which has not yet received a number, would bar any public employee from receiving their pension if they are convicted of any specified felony. The ban would cover employees who participate in the CalPERS system, as well as teachers like Berndt, who participate in CalSTRS. Because it is a constitutional amendment, rather than a bill, it must be approved by two-thirds of the legislature and voters.
“While a constitutional amendment requires more votes to pass,” said Smyth, “that means it would also take a two-thirds vote to undo the changes we want to make. Good legislation is often passed, only to be overturned by a simple majority the following year. I don’t want to see that happen with an important issue like this one.”
Sean Hoffman, Legislative and Communications Director for Smyth, said that several details, including the specific felonies that would be included and the possibility of spouses’ rights to a portion of an offender’s pension are being worked out. He also expects that there will be changes, as well as some opposition.
“The Legislative Counsel is working on it now,” Hoffman explained. “And very rarely is a bill introduced and never amended.”
Smyth expects to have full language of the Assembly Constitutional Amendment for introduction later this month.