Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State leaders agree to ethics reforms

Poughkeepsie Journal.Com Jay Gallagher

Solid, Concrete Legislative Reforms.....finally......Eliot is keeping his word about making Reform the centerpiece of his new administration........andy

ALBANY - Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders Wednesday announced agreement on what they called a sweeping series of changes in ethics rules designed to restore the public trust in state government.The measure, which is expected to be approved next week by the Legislature, would:- Ban all gifts to public officials except those of a nominal amount, like a baseball cap. There is now a $75 limit.- Prohibit lobbyists from paying for travel, lodging and other expenses for any state official.- Ban elected officials from appearing in taxpayer-financed public-service announcements, as former Gov. George Pataki frequently did.- Starting at the end of 2008, prohibit former legislative employees from lobbying for two years after they leave the public payroll.- Prohibit paid speeches under most circumstances by statewide elected officials, agency heads and lawmakers.- Bar any state worker except legislative employees from asking about the political affiliation, contributions or voting record of anyone applying for a state job.“

In one bold action, lawmakers have set New York on a path toward true integrity in government,’’ Spitzer said.In an executive order he issues Jan. 1, Spitzer set up many of the same rules for himself and Lt. Gov. David Paterson.The deal also calls for combining the state Ethics Commission and the Lobbying Commission into a single entity with expanded powers and the ability to levy stiffer penalties to enforce ethics rules. It also calls for expanding the panel that oversees legislative ethics by naming some non-lawmakers to it.The only part of the deal criticized by reform advocates was combining the two watchdog organizations.“We believe the creation of a new state agency should not have been done behind closed doors,’’ said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. He said he feared that it might weaken the Lobbying Commission, which he said has been an effective watchdog.Otherwise, Horner said, “the reforms they describe sound impressive.’’Spitzer said that good-government groups had been consulted all the way through the process, and that combining the agencies was “absolutely not’’ an attempt to get rid of Lobbying Commission Executive Director David Grandeau, with whom he has clashed.Spitzer also wouldn’t say whether he had pushed for, but failed to get lawmakers to agree, including oversight of lawmakers in the duties of the new ethics panel.

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