Don’t expect the state Legislature to start passing new ethics laws next year.
Even as the two former leaders of the state Legislature are in the middle of corruption trials, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said there’s plenty of new ethics laws on the books.
Opening statements began Tuesday in the corruption trial of former Senate Leader Dean Skelos and his son — as the separate trial of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver continued into its third week.
“What do you think legislatively we can do that would respond to what either Sheldon Silver or Dean Skelos is on trial for?” Heastie responded when asked by reporters Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol.
The Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent years have passed a series of reforms to try to curb the corruption at the Capitol, but the cases by federal prosecutors against lawmakers continue to pile up.
Heastie said some of the provisions of recently passed ethics laws have yet to be put in place. So it’s too soon to say there should be more laws.
The key issue in Silver’s trial is whether or not the roughly $5 million he received from two law firms was illegal kickbacks for using his influence to steer asbestos patients to the firms in exchange for state grants to a doctor.
When he replaced Silver in January as speaker, after Silver was arrested, Heastie vowed to not take any outside income. Skelos’ successor, Long Island’ John Flanagan, also agreed to drop his outside income as a lawyer when Skelos resigned the powerful post after he was arrested in May.
“I think whatever happens as a result of his trial is not relevant,” Heastie said of Silver’s trial. “If you have outside income, you should disclose it and there should be no conflicts of interest between your outside income and your job as a legislator.”
The Legislature and Cuomo have beefed up disclosure requirements for legislators’ outside income, but good-government groups said there are other lax laws in New York that would improve transparency and tighten its porous campaign-finance laws.
Some Republicans criticized Heastie’s remarks.
“If found guilty, Silver will continue to collect his lavish, taxpayer-funded pension,” Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-Amherst, Erie County, said in a statement. “If he’s found not guilty, it’s even more apparent the Legislature must pass new laws regarding members’ ethics.”