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EDITORIAL: Felonious government workers should lose pensions

It’s an absolute outrage when government employees steal from the public or unlawfully use their jobs to enrich themselves. But the outrage is compounded when those individuals, once convicted, are allowed to collect their taxpayer-funded pensions — even from prison.

Nevada does not have a law that denies publicly funded retirement benefits to state or local government employees who commit a felony in the course of their duties. Pick a crime, any crime — bribery, theft, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, oppression under the color of office — and it can’t cost shady government workers their pensions. Talk about incentivizing bad behavior.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2015 Legislature must not allow even one more government crook to receive a golden parachute for landing at the big house. The Review-Journal’s 10th of 25 policy recommendations to lawmakers in 25 days: Deny Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada benefits to workers convicted of stealing public resources or engaging in public corruption.

Last year, Nevadans saw two cases that justified such a law.

The first involved disgraced Family Court Judge Steven Jones, who in September pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Jones used his name and his judicial office to help scam at least 22 people out of more than $2.6 million, collecting some of that loot in the courthouse parking lot. Jones, 56, could start drawing his pension now, or he could wait until he’s 60. But his conviction won’t stop him from collecting it.

The second case involves Priscilla Rocha, who faces 26 counts of theft and 24 counts of unlawful use of public money. According to authorities, she used her position as director of the Clark County School District’s Adult English Language program to steal $289,000 from the system. Rocha, 66, resigned her position after her program was shut down and she was arrested — and immediately began collecting a $6,000-per-month pension. Rocha has not yet been convicted, but if she is, her pension checks will keep coming.

About two dozen states have laws that deny or at least reduce pension benefits to some public officials who commit crimes on the job, according to Governing magazine. But some of those laws apply only to elected officials. Nevada lawmakers should put some teeth in a state pension forfeiture bill by making it apply to elected officials and government employees at every level. Such a law might discourage public servants from bilking the public in the first place.

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