Despite a string of lawmaker arrests this year and a number of legislative proposals to deal with the issue, the state Legislature left the Capitol in June without acting on any ethics-related packages of bills.
In an Editorial Spotlight interview Tuesday with The Journal News, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, laid the blame squarely with the GOP. Republicans share power of the chamber with the four-member Independent Democratic Conference.
“In terms of ethics reform, you had the Assembly putting out a package, you had our Senate Democrats putting out a package,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The reality is that even the Independent Democrats put out something, but the Republicans put out nothing. And because the Republicans did not want to put out ethics reform, it couldn’t come to the floor. So nothing prevailed.”
As Stewart-Cousins pointed out, the Senate Republicans were the only legislative conference in the Legislature to not put out a slate of anti-corruption bills after the line of lawmaker arrests started in April. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, at the time called on the Legislature to “redouble our efforts to create a government New Yorkers can be proud of,” but also said a GOP-centric proposal wasn’t necessary since so many others were floating around.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said he was unwilling to compromise on his own anti-corruption proposals, appointed a commission under the state Moreland Act earlier this month, giving it broad power to investigate public corruption.
The “so-called conga line” of indicted lawmakers, Stewart-Cousins said, represents a minority of the Legislature. “Most people who are there because they want to serve the public and they want to do the right thing,” she said.
UPDATE: Kelly Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Senate GOP, fires back:
“The next time the Senate Democrats want to criticize anyone on ethics, they should look in the mirror and get to work cleaning up the mess that exists within their own shameless, hypocritical and utterly corrupt conference,” Cummings said in a statement. “With all due respect to Senator Stewart-Cousins, most of the ethical lapses that took place in Albany this year can be directly attributed to members of her own Democratic conference.”
Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative conference in New York, said she also didn’t have a problem with the Assembly refusing to break apart Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point women’s agenda, even as Cuomo supported splitting in up as the session drew to a close. The Senate approved nine of the 10 planks, but Republicans refused to put a much-debated provision to strengthen New York’s abortion laws to a vote.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Assembly, which had passed the package as it was presented, taking a look at how they want to go forward,” she said.
Here’s Stewart-Cousins discussing the lack of action on anti-corruption proposals: