New Ethics for the New Year?
December 22nd, 2009

Following the conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, state legislators promised they were hard at work on a new ethics reform bill and would make its passage a priority in the new year. Details about the contents of the bill have been scarce but apparently negotiations are moving ahead.

Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate majority, said that Sens. Eric Schneiderman and Daniel Squadron have had fruitful negotiations with the Assembly, and now more details about what might be in the bill are available.

Shafran noted that the package is still under negotiation, but so far it appears to be very similar to the bill the Assembly passed earlier this year and the chapter amendment the Senate attempted to add later.

Shafran said that “Negotiations have built on what the chapter amendment established. It is quantitatively better than that bill. Every step has been built on the other one.”

So far, the package would do away with the Public Integrity Commission and create three distinct bodies to oversee the executive branch, legislators and lobbyists. How those bodies would be staffed is still under negotiation.

The bill would also require stricter disclosure for public officials who work as consultants, and would establish a new review process of disclosure forms. Officials would have to present evidence if there are discrepancies on their disclosure forms. A component that would strengthen campaign finance law is also expected.

“We hope tough ethics reform will be the first major piece of legislation we pass this year,” said Shafran.

Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group said he was optimistic about the reforms but questioned why the process has taken so long. “What I want to know is why they didn’t negotiate this thing in two days. It took 6 months from when they passed the Assembly bill. Its not that hard to do.”

When asked if he expected the legislature could pass a massive ethics overhaul while dealing with the state’s escalating budget deficit Horner was cautious. “Yes is the short answer,” he said, but warned that he would like to see the bill passed before the budget process begins. The governor puts out his budget the Wednesday after Martin Luther King’s birthday. So hopefully they can act before then. The more this flows into the budget the harder it will be to get it done. People will be distracted.”

Shafran said he is not concerned. He said the first two weeks of session are short weeks. The third week is typically made up of committee hearings and organizational concerns. Shafran said that significant legislation can still be passed while the budget process is underway. “We hope to do it as soon as possible,” Shafran said. “Our first legislative priority in 2010 is passing tougher ethics laws.”

“There is no reason we can’t get this done in January,” said Sen. Eric Schneiderman, “and I will work was hard as I can to make it happen.”

By on December 22, 2009, 5:16 pm
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