INDIANAPOLIS -- A bill that passed the state House of Representatives without dissent Monday would, in some circumstances, dock the pensions of public officials in Indiana who are convicted of stealing public funds.

On Monday, House Bill 1192 passed 81-0 through the House and is headed to the governor's desk.

Two cases are often cited by the bill's author, state Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus.

- A 2008 theft case involving the former clerk-treasurer of Jonesville taking $93,000 is still ongoing in Bartholomew County. The former official had failed to make reimbursement payments.

- A township volunteer fire department in Hamilton County saw its former treasurer ordered in October to pay restitution amounting to $754,000. He had written himself checks for personal items. Department officials are doubtful that they'll receive the missing funds.

"In those cases, whether it's the township government, whether it's a city, whether it’s the state, I think they ought to have all avenues to recoup monies that were stolen," Lauer said. "To me, it’s a strong deterrent to know that if you go down that road not only are your assets at risk but so is your pension."

Earlier this month, the bill passed the Senate 46-0 with an amendment that removed retirement benefits and disability benefits from the pension penalty.

The provision barring the docking of retirement or disability benefits is still intact. Also, a judge would have to order restitution during sentencing.

“I think it’s good government," Lauer said. "My focus is on making sure the citizens, the taxpayers, my constituents have full confidence in their government ... and that the units like fire departments are able through every avenue to get their money back.”

Last October, cases involving 15 people working in Indiana public service and government agencies were cited in federal and state efforts to curb thefts of public money.

At the time, Paul Joyce, examiner with the State Board of Accounts, said, “Some officials and employees ... still take advantage of system gaps and succumb to the temptation to use public funds for personal gain.”

Amendment attempts

A recent committee discussion on House Bill 1192 underscored the often last-minute efforts to inject failed legislation into bills that are still moving through the General Assembly.

House Bill 1323, which died in the Senate, would have enhanced a prison sentence for someone convicted of theft who sold the stolen items on the internet as a racketeering enterprise.

On April 15, Indiana Retail Council President Grant Monahan asked committee members to amend 1192 by including 1323. The attempt to merge the bills failed.

“The bill before you deals with theft. So does House Bill 1323,” Monahan said. “It deals with a very serious threat that retailers face every day. It’s sort of what I think as the 21st century version of shoplifting."

Monahan’s suggestion didn’t sway the committee.

Committee member Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, said, "1323 is a really good bill, and it’s very unfortunate it didn’t get heard in the Senate. … These individuals are kind of targeting Indiana because surrounding states have laws that prohibit this. But it is certainly up to Rep. Lauer as to whether he wants to add this to the bill.”

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, another committee member, noted that 1323 initially raised concerns from law enforcement officials in her community.

“They feel that currently, at least up in my area, that they are very successful in prosecuting these individuals and can prosecute them without having to show that there is this link to organized crime,” Brown said.

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