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Cuomo, Heastie reach deal on ethics

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Nov.19, 2014.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Nov.19, 2014. Credit: AP / Gary Wiepert

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo struck an ethics deal Tuesday with one of two legislative leaders to require lawmakers to identify their private law practice clients and prove their per diem allowances are justified. It also would deny pensions to any lawmaker convicted of a felony.

The State Senate's Republican majority, however, was not part of the announcement, which was made with little notice after the Senate and Assembly adjourned for the day. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) declined to comment.

A pay raise for legislators has been linked to negotiations for a new ethics package, but three officials familiar with the plan said it isn't part of the deal. However, they said Cuomo's proposal to create a commission to study and recommend a pay raise for legislators is still being talked about and could be included in the budget deal due by April 1.

The agreement between the governor and Assembly would seem to dramatically weaken the Senate's power to block an ethics package.

"I think we're there," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said. "It's up to the Senate now to come along."

Cuomo said the deal -- based on his ethics proposal -- doesn't ban outside income, but "allows them to live their lives . . . this is a part-time legislature."

Cuomo said lawmakers with outside income, most often at law firms that can do business with the state, will have to identify their clients who provide $5,000 or more in compensation. There will be some exceptions, such as divorce cases and other cases that don't involve state business, he said.

"I am more than happy," said Cuomo, who had told reporters he was making ethics his top issue in budget negotiations. "It will be part of the budget."

Cuomo has extraordinary power under the constitution in crafting a budget. If the Senate doesn't agree to the ethics proposal, he could impose it on them in emergency spending bills once the budget passes its April 1 due date. The Senate and Assembly would then have to accept the ethics policy or shut down government.

Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a new member but closely involved in the Assembly's talks, said the deal to be detailed Wednesday "nuances" Cuomo's ethics proposal. He said a lawmaker's clients would be identified publicly, on a website, and lawmakers may have to use "swipe cards" to show they were in Albany on non-session days to collect their $172 daily per diem.

The latest ethics package comes after a number of lawmakers, including former Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), have been indicted on corruption charges.

Veteran Assemb. Keith Wright (D-Manhattan) said longer-serving members are also on board with the deal. "I think it's needed and hopefully will protect not only the members of the legislature, but the public and the institution as a whole," Wright said in an interview.

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