Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Public officials for the first time would face a misdemeanor if they fail to report suspected corruption by a colleague, under a bill unveiled Monday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Dubbed the Public Trust Act, the bill also would create new crimes and increase penalties for violating existing anti-corruption laws, the governor said. The proposal would make specific crimes of bribing a public official, scheming to corrupt the government and failing to report bribes.

It's the first of a series of measures the governor has said he would propose in the wake of two scandals involving state legislators.

"Currently, New York State's laws for defining corruption are obsolete and far less effective than federal statutes for prosecuting individuals who commit public corruption crimes," states a memo the Cuomo administration submitted with the proposed legislation.

The Democrat first raised the idea of increasing penalties after two federal indictments that stunned New York's political establishment.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleged that state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and five others conspired in a bribery scheme to rig a spot for Smith in the Republican primary for New York City mayor. Days later, Bharara alleged Assemb. Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx) took bribes to pass legislation to protect certain owners of adult day-care homes.

The scandals have prodded a variety of election-law and corruption-related proposals, including providing public funds for campaigns and ending party bosses' control of political primaries.

Cuomo's proposal would give witnesses only partial immunity when testifying before a grand jury, as in federal cases, so that he or she isn't protected from prosecution by local district attorneys.

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