New York Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, speaks...

New York Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany. (April 26, 2010) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- The state Legislature gave final passage Monday to a bill that would make landmark changes in New York's notoriously weak ethics laws.

As promised a week earlier, the Legislature approved a measure that would force lawmakers, who are all considered part time, to disclose far more details about their outside clients and business interests. It would also compel them to reveal more specific information about their outside compensation.

"This a big step forward to restore the public's trust in state government," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to sign it.

The new law also would establish a new 14-member Joint Committee on Public Ethics that would have the ability to investigate claims against legislators as well as executive branch employees. Substantiated claims against lawmakers would be adjudicated by the separate Legislative Ethics Commission.

Critics cited flaws in the voting scheme necessary to forward a case to the legislative panel. It requires at least two votes from panel appointees of the same political party of the accused, creating a situation in which an 11-3 vote against a lawmaker wouldn't be sufficient to advance a case because three of the four panelists appointed by Republicans voted no.

Still, good government groups said the law would "open a huge window" on the outside activities of lawmakers.

The law also would expand the activities that lobbyists must report and establish a database to catalog any appearance a lobbyist makes before a state agency. And it would subject officials in certain circumstances to forfeiting their state pensions if convicted of a felony.

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