Releasing Public Pension Data Stalls In Senate

9:23 PM, Jun 19, 2012   |    comments
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By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY - The state Senate has yet to act on legislation that would make clear that taxpayer-funded pensions are public information.

The Assembly recently passed the bill after a state appeals court ruled last October that a New York City police pension fund was off limits to the public. The court ruling led other pension funds, including the state Teachers' Retirement System, to not release the names of retired public employees receiving pensions.

Lawmakers have sought to clarify the law to ensure that the names of pension recipients and the amount they receive are public.

But the measure appears stalled in the Senate. The legislative session ends Thursday.

"The committee is not scheduled to meet again, and I haven't had any requests to move the bill," said Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Nassau County, who heads the Senate Investigations Committee where the bill sits.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the bill is still under review.

The Empire Center For New York State Policy, a fiscally conservative group based in Albany, has sued for the police pension information for its searchable online database of salaries and pensions, at www.SeeThroughNY.net.

But its request was rejected by the pension fund and upheld in both state Supreme Court and the appellate division.

A new law would clarify that the pension data should be public, said E.J. McMahon, the group's senior fellow.

"The sooner it's clarified the sooner we have information that is being denied to us," he said.

The state Committee on Open Government has indicated that the pension data should be public. The court appeared to confuse making spousal pension benefits public compared to recipients' benefits, the committee has said.

Current law excludes pension beneficiaries -- spouses of pension recipients, for instance -- from having their names released. But the exemption doesn't apply to pension recipients' names, supporters of the change have said.

The bill, as a result, seeks to better define "retiree" and "beneficiary" as it relates to the state's Freedom of Information law.

"We worked with the Committee on Open Government to clarify the law to conform to the original intent of the disclosure statute," said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

Major news organizations in New York, including Gannett Co. Inc., filed an amicus brief last December in support of the Empire Center's case. News outlets, including Gannett, regularly report on the pensions of public employees.

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