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Pension forfeiture bill headed to House floor

SANTA FE — A bipartisan proposal aimed at ensuring New Mexico elected officials convicted of public corruption charges would have to forfeit their pensions is on its way to the House floor.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 today to approve the measure, House Bill 109, which is sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.

However, several members of the committee raised legal concerns about the bill, such as how it might impact spouses and children of elected officials convicted of wrongdoing.

New Mexico already has a law that allows a judge to fine convicted public officials up to the value of their salaries and “fringe benefits,” but it doesn’t specify pensions.

The issue has surfaced in several recent criminal cases — including those of former GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran and former Democratic state senator Phil Griego — and Attorney General Hector Balderas has said the current law lacks teeth and needs to be strengthened.

The measure debated today would allow an elected official convicted of public corruption — which includes fraud, embezzlement and several other crimes — to have their pension contributions refunded but would make them ineligible to receive the full taxpayer benefits they’d otherwise be entitled to.

“We all realize something needs to be done on this,” Moores said during today’s hearing.

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