Whisnant seeks vote on PERS-felons crackdown

Frustrated by Democrats' blockage

SALEM, Ore. - Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) tried to force a vote Tuesday on a bill limiting public retirement benefits for people convicted of work-related felonies, but says Democrats blocked the move.

House Bill 2784, sponsored by Whisnant, would require the state Public Employees Retirement Board to pay only the benefits funded by contributions from the employee upon criminal conviction.

"It is insulting to taxpayers that a public employee can steal money intended for programs that are critical to citizens and yet still receive the same pension as those who have served the public honorably," Whisnant said.

Whisnant uses a local example to make his case. From 1996 to 2000, a former Deschutes County sheriff, Greg Brown, embezzled nearly $575,000 in taxpayers' money.  He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison and to pay back the funds. Despite this conviction, he is still able to draw his public pension.

Then last July, former city manager of Dallas, Ore., pleaded guilty to theft, official misconduct and falsifying business records. That conviction resulted in a two year prison sentence and an order to pay back the stolen funds. However, there is still no law allowing the state to withhold any part of a pension.

Whisnant first tackled this issue in 2005, when he and the late Senator Ben Westlund introduced HB 2572 in the 2005 session. The House passed the bill, but it died in the Senate. 

This session, HB 2784 has been in the House Business and Labor Committee awaiting action. Whisnant moved to pull the bill out of that committee and up for a vote on the House floor, but the motion was denied by House Democrats.

"Oregonians deserve better than to have their representatives avoid a vote on a critical, common -sense bill such as this," Whisnant said.

Whisnant is serving his sixth term as state representative for Redmond, Sunriver, Tumalo, and parts of Bend and Deschutes County.

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