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Deal to seize corrupt officials’ pensions faces new hurdle

ALBANY - A landmark ethics reform bill to seize the pensions of officials convicted of corruption still isn’t final, despite a celebratory announcement a month ago.

The Assembly next week will reconsider the ethics measure announced in the April 1 budget agreement aimed at a state government dogged by corruption cases. The delay in voting to approve the measure -- originally planned for March 31 -- follows serious blowback from public employee unions with great influence in the legislature.

“We definitely have some issues with it,” said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Union.

He said the concern is that the agreement set in motion a constitutional amendment that would diminish the pensions of officials already in the state retirement system if they are convicted of corruption. That could create a precedent which could be expanded to include all workers in the pension system.

“This is basically tarring everyone with the same brush when the conversation at the moment is about elected officials,” Madarasz said.

The measure already passed by the Senate is scheduled to be discussed in closed-door session next week. After that, the measure could be amended and sent back for approval by the Senate, or potentially the effort could die if the two houses don’t agree on the same wording.

“We’re committed to doing pension forfeitures,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

“I have had many conversations with colleagues and unions,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemb. David Buchwald (D-White Plains). “My special focus is addressing corruption in government, but consistent with that, people try to take into account reasonable comments ... as long as we don’t lose sight of the core issue of insuring that public corruption is appropriately dealt with.”

“It’s a highly significant piece of legislation that needs to be passed,” said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove).

The Senate’s Republican majority, which passed the bill March 31, wouldn’t say Thursday if it would be open to passing a new bill changed by the Assembly.

On April 1, as the state budget was approved hours late, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the agreement as part of a “transformative” ethics reform plan.

Under the agreement, a judge could still award the pension to a convicted official’s spouse or children, as long as they weren’t implicated in the crime.

A previous law made all officials who entered the state pensions since 2011 subject to loss of pension for corruption.


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