Legislators Negotiating New Ethics Bill, Raising Hopes for a ‘Kumbaya Moment’

ALBANY—There might be movement on legislation restructuring the notoriously porous ethics enforcement in Albany.

“My understanding is we’re actually looking at a new bill that has elements from all of the different passages that have actually been presented and as I said before I think that is a positive development,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause. “Both houses have this problem, and both houses have to step forward jointly. No more one-house bills.”

The Assembly has passed a “turn back the clock” bill that would blow up the Commission on Public Integrity and diffuse enforcement responsibilities across multiple agencies. Democrats controlling the State Senate considered the same bill as well as some further-reaching chapter amendments in September, but down a member, they laid it aside when it was clear Republicans would not provide any votes for the amendments. They opted to have no loaf instead of half.

No matter. A Senate source familiar with the negotiations said a new bill drafted in that chamber–and the threat of its introduction–prompted negotiations to start again with the Assembly and David Paterson.

“We hope the kumbaya moment happens soon,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director for NYPIRG. He and Lerner joined Dick Dadey of Citizens Union which found in a new report, not surprisingly, that the number of legislators leaving office for ethical misconduct is increasing. The bill is not on the agenda for this special session, however, though the good-government groups hope a vote will happen as quickly as possible. Legislators are actually feeling incentivized to do something about ethics, as recent elections showed a strong anti-incumbent sentiment and polls show they are perceived by voters as a giant morass of dysfunctionality.

Horner said the current enforcement provisions–the Legislative Ethics Commission, controlled by legislators, is responsible for policing other legislators and does nothing–is inadequate.

“It’s sort of Lake Wobegon-like enforcement where everyone is above average,” Horner said.


Legislators Negotiating New Ethics Bill, Raising Hopes for a ‘Kumbaya Moment’