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State Ethics Law Weak On Political Corruption

10:49 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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New York State Assembly

BUFFALO, NY - It seems after every public corruption scandal involving politicians there's talk of reform afterwards. This is the case again after two state lawmakers were charged last week in separate bribery cases.

And as it turns out a 2011 law that was supposed to slow corruption statewide, isn't having much of an impact.

The Public Integrity Act, of 2011 was supposed to clean up corruption in Albany to, "restore public confidence in our government."

It was passed a couple months after former state comptroller Alan Hevesi was sentenced to prison for taking kickbacks. Albany is immersed in another political scandal now. It involves Democrat State Senator Malcolm Smith, who's accused of bribery and Democrat Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who's been charged in a separate bribery scheme.

So, with more corruption clouding Albany, has the law had any affect?

Assemblymember, Jane Corwin (R - 144th District) said, "I think the law is crap quite frankly, we need to do a lot more than what's been done."

The law created the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics to oversee and investigate financial disclosure issues with lawmakers. It also required ethics training for elected officials. And finally the law also takes away a lawmaker's pension if they're convicted of a felony, but only "after the effective date of the law." So that means, Smith and Stevenson could still get their pensions if found guilty.

Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, (D - 143rd District) said, "anytime you have something that comes before you is going to bring about tougher sanctions, I'm going to support that unfortunately, it comes down to enforcement."

Lawmakers on both side of the aisle say the ethics package was better than the status quo and that the committee that oversees lawmakers doesn't have much power to govern and is made up of political appointees.

Two On Your Side's Jeff Preval called all local lawmakers who voted for the Public Integrity Act to get their take on whether the law needs to be improved.

State Senators Mark Grisanti, Tim Kennedy, and Michael Ranzenhofer say that the law isn't enough and that more needs to be done to fix Albany.

Sen. Grisanti's office said in a statement: "In 2011, I supported and voted for the Public Integrity Reform Act. This was a good start, but we need to consistently monitor and improve the state's laws to try to stop the corruption we recently saw in New York City. The public trust is paramount. I look forward to working closely with the governor, the Senate, the Assembly, the district attorneys and others to stop corruption across the state."

We didn't get a direct response from State Senator Patrick Gallivan and Senator George Maziarz didn't call us back.

In the Assembly, members John Ceretto, Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Robin Schiminger didn't return our calls. 

"The one thing you can't do is legislate greed or arrogance, which is what we've seen this week," said Gabryszak.

 

In addition, both Smith and Stevenson voted for the 2011 Public Integrity Act.

Meantime, the governor is proposing new steps to try to reform Albany. They include, allowing local prosecutors to have more authority in pursuing corruption cases and creating of a new misdemeanor charge if a public official doesn't report a bribery attempt.

The steps are getting some Democrat and Republican support.

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