NY Senate Dems Try to Put GOP on the Spot Over Ethics Reform

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Senate Democrats, including Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, are calling for public hearings next month on several ethics reform proposals that they say need to be passed this session.

Krueger said the hearings would include constitutional authorities and other expert witnesses to discuss proposed bills requiring broader financial disclosure of lawmakers' outside income, lawyer legislators to release the names of clients who do business with the state and those taking away pensions from lawmakers who are convicted of public corruption.

Many of these reform items, Krueger said, are the same things Governor Andrew Cuomo said 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 legislators' law clients that do business with the state. Silver said 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, refuted that Democrats are attempting to embarrass Senate Republicans, who have not yet come to an agreement with Cuomo and Assembly Democrats on the details of ethics reform. Rivera, who replaced embattled Senator Pedro Espada, said 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 2-1/2 week vacation, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Republicans responded to the Democrats' request.

"Senate Democrats didn't pass any of these ethics bills when they were in the majority (from 2008 through 2010)," said spokesman Mark Hansen in a statement, but "they did violate some of them," he said referring to corruption charges against several Democratic state Senators — including, most recently, Senator Carl Kruger, who was indicted for allegedly accepting $1 million in bribes.

Hansen said "discussions with the governor and Assembly on ethics reform are ongoing" and that he's "confident" an agreement can be reached.