State Senate, Assembly Dig Into Ethics Proposals

A push to restore integrity to the State Capitol began Monday as state officials agreed to two ethics reform measures.

The New York State Senate and Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would reduce and revoke pensions of public officials who are convicted of a felony related to their official duties.

Under the State Constitution, passage of an amendment needs a vote in two separate legislative sessions. Monday was the second time legislators gave their approval after giving passage during last year’s session.

The amendment will now­ go to a vote during the November election.

The push comes after several cases that involved public officials abusing their office and duty. Sheldon Silver, former Assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, former Senate Republican majority leader, were convicted last year for using their influence in office to generate personal gains.

“The Senate is committed to restoring faith in government, and pension forfeiture has been a priority for us because those who violate the public trust need to be held responsible,” said state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean. “Corrupt officials should not be able to cash in their taxpayer-funded pensions and continue to enjoy the fruits of their misdeeds.”

The measure would subject an individual to pension reduction or revocation following a notice and a court hearing. The court’s decision would consider the severity of the crime and whether a reduction might be proportionate to the offense.

Along with elected officials, direct gubernatorial appointees, municipal managers, department heads, chief fiscal officers and policy makers would be subject to the law.

Legislators also came to a consensus on new requirements for members who earn additional income from outside employment. Under the resolution that passed Monday, any member of the legislature earning more than $5,000 through outside employment must submit a written request for an advisory opinion to the Legislative Ethics Commission to ensure the employment is consistent with Public Officers Law.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said monitoring legislators’ outside income will ensure “the highest ethical standard in state government.”

Legislation is different from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Democrats’ initial push to limit outside income among legislators. The governor and Democrats said it would put an end to chronic conflict of interest that impacted the legislature for years. Republicans like Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said it wouldn’t have stopped ethical violations that occurred in the past. In addition, they’ve said it was nothing more than a smokescreen to obtain higher salaries.

During session Monday, Assembly Republicans proposed various changes to operations and proceedings  in the chamber — all of which were shot down by the Democratic majority.

Proposals included limiting all committee chairpersons as well as minority and majority leaders to eight years. The Spirit of 76 resolution looked at allowing a bill with 76 votes to come to the floor for a vote. It failed as 39 voted ‘yes’ and 82 said ‘no.’

A bill that Goodell explained on the floor would have brought transparency to the selection of a new speaker should one resign mid-term. The resolution failed via a 37-82 vote.

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