Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brennan Center Statement on the Passage of the Legislature's Ethics Bill

Today, the legislature passed S6457/A9544, the legislative ethics bill that seeks to institute stricter reporting requirements on lobbyists and legislators who accept payments for consulting services, make oversight of the executive branch more independent, and give the Board of Elections stronger tools to enforce campaign finance laws.

Senator Schneiderman, the bill’s primary sponsor, acknowledged today that this bill is only a first step toward the full suite of reforms that Albany needs. We hope that the legislature takes this to heart and continues to work toward reform. Specifically, the legislature needs to close the loophole that allows lawyers and legislators in other protected professions to obscure their sources of outside income from public view, establish a truly independent body to oversee the legislative branch, and work toward stricter contribution limits.

While the Brennan Center applauds the legislature’s newfound zeal in addressing Albany’s need for reform, we are disappointed by the process by which this bill was passed. The bill went from consideration by its committee of first referral to a floor vote in less than a day in the Assembly and less than 30 hours in the Senate. Any bill that purports to increase transparency in government should be subject to open consideration and public input. It is regrettable that neither chamber held hearings on this bill.

It remains to be seen whether the governor will sign the bill. Whether or not the bill is enacted into law, we hope that the legislature will continue its efforts to reform state government, its ethics and disclosure laws, and its campaign finance rules.

The public would be right to be skeptical of a bill negotiated in secret and passed so quickly that claims to bring greater disclosure, openness, and ethics to Albany. Governor Paterson has a proposal which would bring much greater, needed change to Albany. Other legislators have indicated they would like to see more done, one way or another. Next time, let's have a hearing or two that allows experts and the public to comment on bill language.

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