Monday, February 8, 2016

Ethics bill not the whole package, say pols

By Adam Wisnieski

It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

That was the general reaction from local elected officials on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 113-page ethics bill, which passed the Senate and Assembly on Monday.

As soon as Mr. Cuomo signs it, the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 will create a 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which will monitor politicians and lobbyists and conduct investigations into potential ethics violations. It will also require legislators to publicly divulge their outside incomes and any legislators who also work as lawyers to disclose their legal work with state agencies. Future legislators convicted of felonies will no longer be allowed to collect pensions.

“I think it has a lot of great things in it ... Is it perfect? It is not,” said state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who ran on a platform of ethics reform and has been pushing for it since taking the 33rd state Sen. seat of ethically challenged, and now indicted, state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr.

In December, Mr. Espada was charged with stealing more than $500,000 from the taxpayer-funded Soundview Health Center he founded and operated. 

Ethics has loomed large in the state ever since last year’s election. Former Mayor Ed Koch started New York Uprising, pushing for ethics reform.

Many legislators, including Mr. Espada, were called “heroes of reform” by Mr. Koch for signing a pledge. 

Mr. Cuomo also campaigned on cleaning up Albany. And four senators, including state Sen. Jeff Klein, left the Democratic Conference to form the Independent Democratic Conference early this year, citing the Senate’s handling of ethical issue as a main reason for their departure. They quickly introduced a package of bills that Mr. Klein described as “almost identical” to Mr. Cuomo’s current package.

“I think its one of the toughest ethics bills in the country,” Mr. Klein said of Mr. Cuomo’s proposal. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat called it a great start and called Mr. Cuomo’s first session as governor a big success. Mr. Rivera and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz had a more nuanced reaction. They liked the bill, but found flaws. 

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