The House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code on Wednesday unanimously stripped a proposed bill of language that would have required Indiana public officials to serve prison time for theft of taxpayer dollars. In its place, the committee added a provision to recoup any monetary losses from the pension funds of officials convicted of theft.
Initially, House Bill 1192 would have required any government official who commits theft of $750 or more in public funds to spend at least 30 days in prison. However, an amendment proposed by author Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, removed that language completely.
“My goal is to increase the deterrent for the theft of public funds,” Lauer said. “What this does is allow the local body that’s affected to garnish the pensions of the public servant who stole the money to recoup the funds.”
Lauer, a newly elected state representative, said the amendment strengthens the bill and is “simply good government.”
“We’ve seen townships disrupted, school resources affected, cities and counties harmed and volunteer fire departments crippled,” he said. “As a former county councilman, I have seen this impact my community.”
In the past four years, Bartholomew County has seen five township officials under investigation for financial improprieties, according to the Columbus Republic. Lauer said some of those cases crippled the county’s volunteer fire department.
“It was over $100,000,” he said. “It’s always boiled my blood that this can occur and that someone entrusted with public funds would even consider stealing.”
All public officials and employees would be covered under the proposed law, including members of the Legislature.
“I’ve followed it and been tuned in over the years on this. I’ve had it on my mind for some time,” he said. “This is something I thought was a chance to increase the accountability of our public officials.”
Dave Powell of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council testified in support of the amended bill, hailing the measure as an effective deterrent.
The amended bill passed the committee 12-0 and awaits action by the full House.