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Long IslandPolitics

Lawmaker: Cuomo ethics measure may be weakened

ALBANY -- Closed-door budget negotiations may result in the weakening of an ethics measure Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said is critical for a state budget to be adopted on time, a key state senator said Wednesday.

Cuomo has proposed that legislators who are lawyers and hold other outside jobs be required to disclose their clients to avoid conflicts of interest. The Assembly already supports it.

But Senate Finance Committee chairman John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said the final measure could end up requiring legislators only to disclose clients who have business with the state.

"We're trying to narrow the necessary disclosure," DeFrancisco, an attorney, told reporters. "Necessary disclosure might be that if that person -- the client -- does business with the state." He also said disclosure may be inappropriate if there is "a particularly sensitive issue that shouldn't be out in the public."

Cuomo aides noted that state law already requires lawmakers to disclose outside clients who do business with the state.

"What's being reported that Senator DeFrancisco is describing is not disclosure, it is current law," Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said. "As the governor has said, he will not enact a budget that doesn't include an ethics package with real disclosure of legislators' outside income, and he meant it."

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said the latest ethics reform effort is following a disappointing path.

"We're repeating recent history where a very inadequate ethics proposal is announced that the leaders pat themselves on the back about, but really does nothing that deals with the serious problems," said Gianaris, a lawyer. "I heard a Republican senator say the compromise was essentially sticking with existing law. That's no change at all."

DeFrancisco also said Wednesday after a closed-door Senate Republican conference that a recently proposed commission to overhaul the teacher evaluation system has hit a snag. He said one of three state leaders he wouldn't name is opposing the measure.

Cuomo aides have cast doubt on the compromise measure since it surfaced Tuesday. Under the proposal, a new commission would develop a teacher-evaluation process, and would report recommendations to the State Legislature in June.

Cuomo had wanted to make student performance on standardized tests a bigger part of teacher evaluations to make the evaluations more rigorous and weed out poor-performing teachers.

Teachers unions and the Assembly's Democratic majority strongly oppose the plan, saying student test scores can't accurately be used to rate teachers.

As a hammer, Cuomo proposed that if the legislature agrees to his teacher evaluation changes, school aid would increase by $1.1 billion. If the legislature refuses, the state's more than 700 school districts would get $377 million, or about a 1.7 percent increase.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said he cannot envision lawmakers settling the state budget, which is due April 1, without finalizing school aid.

"We don't feel policy should be linked to appropriations," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). "I think it is pretty difficult to say, 'You will get the money if.'"

With Yancey Roy


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