New Discussions On Ethics Reform Have Started in Albany, Senate Leader Says

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NEW YORK NOW – State lawmakers could take another crack this year at bolstering laws on public ethics and transparency, and those conversations have already started among members of the state Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Tuesday.

It wouldn’t be a new topic to address in Albany, but there’s renewed interest among lawmakers given the multiple controversies surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 Credit: New York State Senate

“You can be assured that we’ve already started to have those conversations, and we will continue to have those conversations,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Ethics reform could be one of several issues that lawmakers address before the end of this year’s legislative session in June, and there appears to be an appetite for that among lawmakers on some level.

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said in an interview on New York NOW last week that she’s finalizing a new draft of legislation that would overhaul the state’s current ethics agencies.

“We are probably introducing a new draft in both houses, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we might be able to get first passage in both houses,” Krueger said.

Krueger’s legislation would create a new commission to investigate claims of corruption and misconduct and enforce the state’s laws against it. That commission, under Krueger’s proposal, would be enshrined in the state constitution.

The measure would, importantly, eliminate the state’s current ethics agencies — the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been critical of JCOPE since it was created in 2011, saying the panel hasn’t done enough to address complaints of misconduct and corruption in state government.

“JCOPE has proved itself incapable of handling even some basic type of complaints,” Krueger said.

There’s been a reckoning of sorts in Albany over the past decade when it comes to the state’s public ethics laws.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were both convicted on federal corruption charges a few years ago, and top officials have also been the subject of federal criminal inquiries, including officials with ties to Cuomo.

Now, Cuomo is under fire on multiple fronts, with most of the state’s leading Democrats calling for his resignation.

Cuomo’s currently under investigation over multiple allegations of sexual harassment, his administration’s handling of nursing homes, new claims that he used state personnel to work on a book he published last year, and more.

Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately — both at the office and in his personal life — and has defended his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.

He’s also dismissed the claims about his book, saying any work on the memoir by state workers was done voluntarily, and not while they were on the clock. Cuomo has reportedly earned millions of dollars from the book, which was published last year.

Some lawmakers have stood by Cuomo as the controversies have continued to unfold, but others have said the situation could present an opportunity for change at the state capitol.

Stewart-Cousins said there’s interest among lawmakers for something to happen this year, and that those discussions will continue in the weeks to come.

“There’s always an appetite to strengthen various pieces that obviously need to be strengthened,” Stewart-Cousins said. “So, I’m sure you’ll see more reform on the horizon.”