City Bar Renews Call for State Government Reform

The New York City Bar Association has renewed its call for reform in Albany, issuing a memo 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 a handful of new rules and efforts last session to develop ethics reform legislation, it believes 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, which include:

* 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 our citizens and secure public support for those policies and procedures that are a priority for the new administration.

The State Affairs Committee also sent letters to the leadership in both houses, with copies to the rest of the legislature, urging them to pass new rules to increase transparency and make it easier for rank and file members to move bills to the floor for debate, and to improve the legislative committee process. The changes suggested by the Committee, which are modeled on best practices from other states, would create a more deliberative, representative and accountable legislature.