MTRS files legislation to prohibit payment of pensions to members convicted of child pornography charges

The Massachusetts retirement statute provides that any public employee convicted of a crime “involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position” forfeits his or her retirement allowance, and is entitled only to a return of his or her contributions without interest.

The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement Board believes that in the very rare instance when an educator is convicted of the possession of child pornography or other sex crimes against children, even if “off duty,” that educator should forfeit his or her pension because such crimes are repugnant to the special trust and duty inherent in the position of an educator.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the Board in Garney v. MTRS, 469 Mass. 384 (2014). Although the Court readily acknowledged that teachers are charged with a “special public trust,” and that crimes such as possession of child pornography may be sufficient to dismiss a teacher from employment, the Court held that a conviction for the private possession of child pornography did not sufficiently “involve” the position of teacher so as to forfeit a teacher’s retirement allowance.

As it did in 2014 and 2016, the Board has again filed legislation to make clear that certain offenses, namely possession of child pornography as well as others that require registration as a “sex offender,” when committed against children, are so contrary to the role of educating children that convictions of these crimes are indeed “fundamental” to the job of an educator.

Our current filing—H.17, AN ACT RELATIVE TO PENSION FORFEITURE—would make substantive and technical changes to the retirement statutes regarding the forfeiture of a Massachusetts public employee retirement benefit. Specifically, this legislation would:

  • redefine the phrase “criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position,” in the case of a member whose primary job responsibilities involve contact with children or any member of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System or a teacher who is a member of the Boston Retirement System, to include possession of child pornography under G.L. c. 272, § 29C, as well as other sex offenses involving children;
  • restrict forfeitures to felony convictions;
  • allow for an “innocent beneficiary” named as an Option C beneficiary to collect the Option C survivor benefit notwithstanding the member’s forfeited benefit; and,
  • continue to allow total forfeiture, but also allow retirement boards the option of a tiered reduction in pension benefits depending on the severity of the crime.

The Board is aware that the vast, vast majority of the educators in the Commonwealth uphold this special public trust and are no doubt appalled at the notion that a small number do not. Although this affects very few of our members, the Board feels that even one case is unacceptable and, for that reason, has filed this legislation.