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NY proposal would oust lawmakers for misdemeanors

ALBANY - A day before the New York State Senate is expected to decide whether to expel a senator convicted of misdemeanor assault, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada proposed legislation to require the automatic expulsion of senators in such cases.

The new law wouldn't affect Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat who was convicted of dragging his girlfriend through his apartment building lobby, but was acquitted of a felony. A felony conviction would have automatically cost him his job. Monserrate is appealing the conviction as Democratic leaders decide how to deal with his case.

"I would think everyone engaged in this conversation of expulsion would want clarity, this kind of very defined proposal that says . . . we have specific guidelines," Espada said.

Even if the law had been passed before Monserrate's conviction, he wouldn't face expulsion under the measure Espada proposed Monday. The law wouldn't punish first-time lawmakers for crimes committed between Election Day and swearing in - the window of time when Monserrate was arrested.

The misdemeanors that would merit expulsion under Espada's bill include: third-degree assault; second-degree sexual abuse; and fifth-degree arson, among others.

Monserrate was convicted of third-degree assault. His fate in the Senate will likely be decided Tuesday.

"I believe if an expulsion resolution comes to the floor that there would be more than sufficient votes, that he would be expelled," Senate president Malcolm Smith said Monday.

Meanwhile, Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed a new ethics bill after vetoing a measure passed by lawmakers. Paterson said his new proposal was meant to be a compromise with the Democrat-led Legislature, which unsuccessfully tried to override his veto Monday.

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