Hoosiers impacted by the theft of money at the hands of public servants could find some relief if a bill that would allow them to dip into thieves’ public pension funds passes the Indiana Senate’s scrutiny.
Under House Bill 1192, government officials – including prosecutors, judges and legislators – who criminally exert unauthorized control over public funds would have their pension funds tapped into in order to reimburse the stolen money in the event that the funds cannot be recovered.
The bill’s author, Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, asserted the bill’s chief goal is to deter theft of public dollars. Citing his personal experience responding to theft as a former Bartholomew County Councilman, Lauer said he knows firsthand the impacts such theft can have on communities.
“We’ve seen towns disrupted, schools affected, cities and towns harmed, and governments crippled when government theft takes place,” Lauer said.
Chris Daniels, speaking on behalf of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, offered support for the measure, noting it will hopefully mend the public’s trust in its leaders.
“There’s always a concern that someone that has already broken the public trust and profited and benefited from it will continue to do so,” Daniels said.
HB 1192, which received a unanimous approval from the Indiana House of Representatives, faced a round of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Among the concerns raised was a question by Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, who asked whether theft of public funds would also include the failure to pay or intentionally cheat on an individual’s taxes. Lauer said he was unsure if the bill would particularly cover that issue under the definition of public funds.
HB 1192 would also provide that any loss resulting from the person's criminal taking must be proven by a restitution order following a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Assets of a judges' retirement system and prosecuting attorneys’ retirement funds would be exempt, however, from levy, sale, garnishment, attachment or other legal process.
Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, questioned those aspects of the bill, pointing to restitution and the tapping into a pension fund as a last resort.
“I would hope that the bench wouldn’t use this as a further punitive measure for punishment,” Buck said. “Not that they would, but I try to think of the rare instances of what may occur. I would hope the prosecutors would try to work it out.”
Lauer replied that the bill is geared toward providing an option for relief in the event that all other avenues of refund are exhausted. Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, the bill’s Senate sponsor, informed the committee that he would work with Lauer on the issues raised in the Senate Judiciary Committee to bring forth potential amendments on second reading.
The bill passed the committee 10-0 and will now move to the full Senate for consideration.