City Bar Calls for State Government Ethics and Rules Reforms

The New York City Bar Association has renewed its calls for reform in Albany, issuing a statement to Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo and letters to all legislators to urge enactment of ethics and rules reforms in the coming legislative session.

While the City Bar applauds the Senate’s enactment of new rules and efforts last session to develop ethics reform legislation, these measures still fall short of bringing true transparency, accountability and balance to the Legislature. In their statement to Governor-Elect Cuomo, the Government Ethics and State Affairs Committees outlined their five core principals for government ethics reform:

  • creating a single independent ethics agency with the principal responsibility of overseeing and enforcing ethics laws for the Executive branch, the Legislature and lobbyists alike;
  • safeguarding the independence and integrity of the ethics agency by designating a commission to appoint it, with input from multiple elected officials;
  • safeguarding the strength and effectiveness of the agency by giving the agency powers to subpoena, impose civil sanctions, make criminal referrals, audit, and issue advisory opinions;
  • providing for full and meaningful disclosure of legislators’ outside income, including that of legislators who are also attorneys (with limited exceptions); and
  • assuring that Senators and Assembly Members are no longer the principal police of their own ethics, by assigning that role to the independent ethics agency.

Additionally, the Committees encouraged the Governor-Elect to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on proposed Executive Orders that are not time-sensitive and will have a significant impact on the way the Executive branch conducts the public’s business. Allowing for a period of public comment would promote a deliberative and transparent process that would help engage the public and secure support for those policies and procedures that are a priority for the new administration.

Separately, the State Affairs Committee sent a letter to legislators in both houses urging them to pass new rules to increase transparency, make it easier for rank and file members to move bills to the floor, and improve the committee process. The changes suggested by the Committee, which are modeled on best practices from other states, are intended to create a more deliberative, representative and accountable legislature.