Little, Sayward praise passage of ethics reform legislation

Lawmakers from the North Country are pleased with this week's passage of new ethics legislation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The state Senate and Assembly both passed the legislation, which represents another major victory for Cuomo.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has been pushing a lofty legislative agenda, including ethics reform, a cap on property tax growth, and passage of a gay marriage bill - and he wants it all signed into law before the current legislative session ends June 20.

Lawmakers are expected to finalize a tax cap before next week, and Cuomo has won a few key votes on marriage equality legislation from Senate Republicans.

The ethics reform bill creates an enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over both the executive and legislative branches. The measure requires all lawmakers to disclose information about their private businesses, including personal income. For lawyers, the bill requires full disclosure on clients.

Penalties for ethics violation also increase under this week's legislation.

State Senator Betty Little says the ethics reform legislation helps identify potential conflicts of interest "before they become self-serving interests for politicians."

"More disclosure and increased access to the information will be in the public's best interests," she said. "And the loss of pensions, among other penalties, for officials who commit crimes should be an effective deterrent."

Little's colleague in the Assembly, Teresa Sayward, says the legislation takes a "significant first step" toward changing the way business is done in Albany.

"The ethics reform package will require greater disclosure and will help create transparency in state government," she said.

"There is more left to be done to make state government truly work for New Yorkers," Sayward added. "I am confident that the reforms passed today will go a long way towards making sure that the interests of the people of our state are truly represented."

The bill has its critics, though.

Some say the process for starting an investigation into a lawmaker suspected of an ethics violation is too complex.

Members of the ethics board also have a veto, which opponents say could lead to roadblocks for investigations into someone from the same political party.

The new board has 14 members, which supporters hope will translate to less gridlock during ethics investigations.

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