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ALBANY - ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie Wednesday tried to pressure the Senate majority to accept their two-way ethics bill, but Republican senators weren't caving.
During a closed-door session Wednesday, the Senate considered the proposal thrust upon them Tuesday. Talks are expected resume Thursday. Several Republicans said they didn't immediately dismiss the proposal, which may be a lynchpin to a state budget agreement.
But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said, "It's a two-way (announcement) and you need three ways to get an agreement. We're going to have a strong ethics package, but it also has to include the executive branch."
Skelos also said he will continue to push to require unmarried domestic partners, including Cuomo's girlfriend, food TV star Sandra Lee, to submit financial disclosure forms as spouses of officials must. Cuomo's counsel said Wednesday that that issue is off the table because it "doesn't go to the source of the problem."
Under the partial deal, Cuomo and Heastie agreed to require lawmakers to identify their private law practice clients to avoid conflicts and prove legislators' per diem allowances are justified through electronic swipe cards. It also would deny pensions to any top state official convicted of felony corruption. Cuomo confirmed talks are also under way for his plan to create a commission to recommend a legislative pay raise, but he said it wasn't tied to the ethics agreement.
Some details emerged Wednesday. For example, the proposal would pave the way for a constitutional amendment to allow seizing the pensions of any legislators or top statewide officials convicted of corruption. But their spouses could still collect their share. That share would be determined by a court.
In addition, legislators acting as private lawyers would have to identify their clients, but a law firm colleague working with a client on a state issue wouldn't. The measure seeks to require legislators working "of counsel" to disclose clients they help even if the legislator is simply a "rainmaker" who attracts clients or advises his colleagues.
"In most instances in private law firms, lawyers are representing the interest of clients," said Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David. "So if the lawyer is drafting a memo, or representing someone in court, or drafting a corporate agreement, that agreement goes to the benefit of a client. The lawyer will have an obligation to disclose the name of that client."
Heastie said the package will regain the trust of New Yorkers and "bring true reform and accountability into these halls."
"My priority this year is to restore trust with an ethics policy," Cuomo said. "We believe this is the most stringent ethics policy in the United States of America. And that is saying something."
The New York Public Interest Research Group disagreed.
"Despite the promises of significant reforms, the reported agreement seems to fall far short," said NYPIRG's Blair Horner. He said the plan relies too much on lawmakers voluntarily disclosing details of their outside income and too little on beefing up ethics enforcement.