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Nassau GOP introduces ethics plan before fall elections

With political corruption a top issue in this fall’s election, Republican Nassau legislators on Wednesday unveiled a bill they said would give the county the “toughest ethics code in New York state.”

The legislature’s GOP majority proposes overhauling the rarely heard-from Board of Ethics by limiting the amount of members representing one political party, restricting members’ political activity, and requiring speedier opinions and annual public reports.

While legislative Democrats and both party’s county executive candidates have pitched some of these revisions, the Republican majority can actually pass them. The bill could be called for a vote at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting.

“These changes are important and significant,” said Deputy presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) at a news conference in front of the county’s legislative and executive building in Mineola. “We have put in strong safeguards for the county of Nassau and its tax base.”

The proposed ethics reforms are a combination of practices instituted by other suburban counties in the state.

They include: ensuring the five-member board has no more than two representatives of any political party; banning members’ from making campaign contributions or seeking elected office; requiring most reports to be issued within 30 days and expanding ethics training given by the board.

The existing ethics board is dominated by Republicans and has issued few public findings in recent years. Republican County Executive Edward Mangano said he supports the majority proposals.

Asked why GOP legislators were only now making their proposals — when complaints about the ethics board have long existed, Nicolello didn’t mention the election.

“This is a time-consuming process,” he said.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) supports the changes but criticized the majority for blocking a Democratic proposal for an independent inspector general to probe county contracts.

“However good these amendments may look on paper, they are meaningless because they will not be independently enforced by a public corruption officer,” Abrahams said.

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