The state Assembly yesterday passed an ethics reform bill that would set higher ethical standards for public officials, significantly strengthen penalties for violations, establish an independent public integrity panel with far-reaching powers, and reorganize the Legislative Ethics Committee.
The Assembly Minority Conference introduced two amendments that would eliminate pension benefits for elected officials convicted of a felony and require public hearings on the ethics reform act prior to it being enacted into law. Both were defeated.
“The ethics reforms I supported are a good step forward, but the amendments our Conference offered would have made these reforms even stronger by preventing elected officials convicted of a felony from collecting their pensions and requiring public hearings on ethics reforms,” said Hawley.
“It is essential to any democracy that public input is taken very seriously, without legislation being created and debated behind closed doors,” Hawley said. “As we move forward in an age of reform, we must increase transparency and give the people of this state a voice in Albany.”
“To enact a true ethics reform bill, there must be provisions to deny someone, who violates public trust, their taxpayer-funded pension and benefits,” said Hawley. “Elected officials should be held responsible for abuses of power that weaken our government and diminish its effectiveness.”
Included in the ethics reform bill that passed Wednesday:
- Lobbying Reforms - Prohibits all gifts of more than “nominal value” from lobbyists and their clients, including travel, lodging and other expenses, and broadens the types of lobbying activities that lobbyists must disclose;
- Gifts - Prohibits all gifts of more than “nominal value” from non-lobbyists to public officials where such gifts might appear designed to influence the official;
- Honoraria - Bans virtually all honoraria for statewide elected officials, agency heads and legislators;
- Anti-Nepotism Policy - Prohibits state employees from participating in any personnel decision or contracting matter concerning a relative;
- Political Hiring - Bars non-legislative employees from asking about the political affiliation, contributions or voting records of prospective employees;
- Soliciting Contributions - Prohibits non-legislative employees from using their authority or influence to “compel or induce” any other employee to make political contributions;
- Running for Elective Office - Prevents agency heads from becoming candidates for any compensated elective office unless they resign or take an unpaid leave of absence;
- Taxpayer-Financed Advertisements - Prohibits elected government officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements;
- Revolving Door - Closes the “revolving door” loophole by prohibiting former legislative employees from directly lobbying the legislature for two years, and expands the revolving door restrictions for Executive Chamber employees to preclude appearances before any state agency.
The legislation also strengthens penalties for violations of the state Public Officers Law and state Lobbying Law. The maximum civil penalty for public officers who commit ethics violations will be increased from $10,000 to $40,000 plus the value of any associated gain.
Lobbyists who repeatedly flout lobbying laws will be subject to suspension.
The legislation combines the current State Ethics Commission and State Lobbying Commission to create a new State Commission on Public Integrity with broad authority to enforce ethics and lobbying laws.