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Senate Democrats, including Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, are calling for public hearings next month on several “important” ethics reform proposals that they say need to be passed this session.
Krueger says the hearings would include constitutional authorities and other expert witnesses to discuss proposed bills on requiring greater financial disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income, requiring lawyer legislators to release the names of clients who do business with the state, and taking away pensions from lawmakers who are convicted of public corruption.
Senator Krueger says Senate Democrats are seeking many of the same things that Governor Andrew Cuomo says he wants included in an ethics reform package that he will negotiate with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“It fits in perfectly,” Krueger said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said recently that he and the Governor agree on two major tenets of ethics reform, greater disclosure of outside income, and naming a legislator’s law clients that do business with the state. Silver says he also agrees there’s a need for an investigative body with powers to probe charges of corruption in the legislature. But the Speaker wants the Senate and Assembly legislature to retain their own autonomous legislative ethics commission.
In both houses of the legislature, it is usually the majority party that convenes formal hearings, and has greater control over who will testify. Democrats, after a brief two years in control of the Senate, are in the minority party once again.
Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx, denies that Democrats are attempting to embarrass Senate Republicans, who have not yet come to an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Democrats on the details of ethics reform. Senator Rivera, who replaced Senator Pedro Espada, who is now facing a public corruption trial, says he is simply trying to hold Republicans to campaign promises made last fall.
“If they are embarrassed, it’s on them,” said Rivera. “What we’re saying is, ‘keep your promise.’”
Before the legislature left on a two and half week vacation, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Republicans responded to the Democrats’ request. Spokesman Mark Hansen said, in a statement, that “Senate Democrats didn’t pass any of these ethics bills when they were in the Majority”, from 2008 through 2010, but he says “they did violate some of them”, referring to corruption charges against several Democratic State Senators including most recently Senator Carl Kruger, who has been indicted for allegedly accepting $1 million dollars in bribes.
Hansen says “discussions with the Governor and Assembly on ethics reform are ongoing” and says he’s “confident” that an agreement can eventually be reached.