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Petryk column: Rep. Petryk introduces Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) Restitution Act

Rep. Warren Petryk serves in Wisconsin Assembly District 93

In 2016, a former Eau Claire County treasurer and former deputy treasurer were convicted by the courts of stealing over $625,000 from the county treasurer's office and sentenced to jail time. As part of the conviction, the individuals were required to pay restitution back to the taxpayers of the county. As recent retirees, these individuals are drawing payments from the state retirement plan, which under current law in Wisconsin are off limits to the courts as a criminal's assets from which to draw restitution. For one of the individuals, the annual pension is over $55,000 a year.

Last year, the Eau Claire County Board passed a nearly unanimous resolution seeking a change to Wisconsin state law that will allow state and local governments to access state retirement fund accounts of public employees convicted of stealing money from taxpayers and this bill does exactly that.

In response to the Eau Claire County resolution, I along with a number of my legislative colleagues and county officials, on Monday, April 29, announced the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) Restitution Act in the very building where the theft occurred. The purpose of this bill is to help make sure that what happened to the taxpayers of Eau Claire County is less likely to happen in Wisconsin again.

This bill would allow a judge to order the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) to withhold up to 25% (the maximum amount allowed by federal law) of any state pension payment for restitution only if all three of the following conditions apply:

• The crime for which the restitution is ordered is both theft and misconduct in public office;

• The crime resulted in a loss to the defendant's employer and the defendant's employer participates in the WRS; and

• The crime is a felony.

This legislation is researched and modeled on best practices from 25 other states that already have laws allowing for court-ordered restitution from a state pension for cases of theft and misconduct in office.

Though not retroactive, this legislation will help our area heal from that past unfortunate criminal breach of public trust and provide a reasonable degree of restorative justice for the people of our State in the future. I would encourage you to contact your local elected State Representatives and Senators and ask them to co-sponsor this common sense legislation.

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