State ethics reform falls victim to partisan politics

WARRENSBURG - A highly touted state legislative ethics reform bill is on life support after being scuttled because of partisanship in the state Senate late Thursday night.

The bill, which breezed through a unanimous Assembly vote this summer, would have overhauled ethics enforcement in Albany by creating three separate enforcement entities empowered to stop lobbyists from bankrolling legislators, and would require greater disclosure of money received and spent.

The measure would have disbanded the two current oversight commissions and redistributed the oversight power across the three new boards.

But after Senate Democrats attempted to push through an amended version of the bill that would have given them a substantial advantage in the selection of who serves on the oversight boards, both bills failed.

Senate Republicans - who had shown significant support for the initial legislation - demanded a vote on the original bill, but the Democratic Senate majority refused to let it come to the floor.

Local Republican Senator Betty Little was unimpressed with the partisan posturing related a seemingly non-partisan measure.

"Nothing prevented us from voting last night for the reform bill that had already passed the Assembly other than the Democratic conference's decision to hold the bill," Little said. "Senators on both sides of the aisle, including me, want to see this happen - The need is obvious."

The amended bill would have given the governor the authority to appoint three members to the would-be finance enforcement unit, while the attorney general, the comptroller and legislative leaders would have each appointed one individual.

In practice, the amendment would have given the Democrats control of seven of the nine seats on the committee.

Senate Republicans labeled the proposed amendment as a means to create a "partisan star chamber," they claimed

But Senate Democrats countered that the amendment would strengthen the Assembly version by expanding the definition of lobbying and toughening the penalties for violators of campaign ethics laws.

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