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EDITORIAL: This doesn't smell like real ethics reform

The ethics bill that sailed through the State Legislature last week followed dozens of scandals and years of thwarted efforts at reform. So the fact that it passed with a mere three "nays" might be saying something: This bill is ethics lite.

While the bill closes some important loopholes, it simply does not go far enough. Supporters admitted as much, saying that it's a good first step and vowing to tackle other issues in the next round.

But if this bill stands, the momentum for reform will be lost. This angry election year will have passed. New Yorkers deserve better than window-dressing. Gov. David A. Paterson has promised to veto the bill, and he should.

The bill requires lawmakers to disclose a range of income they receive from outside businesses, and to list their clients. But lawyer-legislators - who hold 58 of the 212 seats in Albany - are exempt from giving clients' names, claiming privilege. Legal scholars have ridiculed that argument. And there is precedent elsewhere: lawyer-lawmakers in Washington state make such disclosures.

The bill also allows the legislature to continue policing itself with an in-house commission. And it gives just pitiable resources to the Board of Elections. The online posting of annual financial disclosure forms is a good move, but it's weak without the possibility of an occasional audit of the numbers.

Albany needs the disinfectant that true ethics oversight could provide. But this bill is just a pretty scent masking the same bad odor. hN