New York Gov. Cuomo, Assembly detail legislative ethics agreement, put pressure on Senate

Lawmakers would have to disclose their outside income and swipe an electronic card to prove they're on the job to claim travel reimbursements under a new ethics reform proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

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The plan announced Wednesday, which does not yet have the support of the state Senate, would require lawmakers to report all outside income over $1,000 and make lawyers serving in the Legislature identify clients who pay more than $5,000.

Finally, the proposal would prohibit lawmakers from using campaign money for personal expenses like house payments, clothing or country club memberships.

"We have been plagued with a series of ethical violations," Cuomo told reporters. "We need to be able to say there is a system in place that is designed to prevent such actions, detect actions if they occur and then punish them if they do."

The plan is the latest of several recommendations intended to address Albany's corruption problem since the recent arrest of Heastie's predecessor, former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is fighting charges he took nearly $4 million in bribes and payoffs.

Senate opposition could doom the measure. The Senate's Republican majority planned to discuss the proposal behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he wanted a deal in place before lawmakers pass the state budget, which they hope to do by April 1.

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Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, hasn't said what he thinks of the proposal, but a spokesman indicated he wants to see more reforms that focus on the governor's office as well as the Legislature.

"We have always maintained that a final ethics agreement must include reforms to both the legislative and executive branch," spokesman Scott Reif said.

Cuomo faces his own ethical questions. Last summer his administration hired a criminal defense attorney after questions arose about whether a top aide pressured an anti-corruption commission not to investigate groups linked to the governor. Cuomo had abruptly disbanded the commission last spring in a deal brokered with Silver and other top lawmakers that resulted in some modest ethics reforms.

After Silver's arrest, several proposals have been offered to either restrict legislators' outside pay or require greater disclosure. More than two-thirds of lawmakers report less than $20,000 in outside income, according to an analysis earlier this year by a coalition of good-government groups. Twenty-one lawmakers made $100,000 or more from outside jobs.

Senate Democrats have suggested a cap on outside pay. Another senator has suggested a complete ban on outside employment for lawmakers. Many have said that higher legislative compensation — now $79,500 a year — should be part of any ethics reforms.

The plan announced Wednesday is based on earlier Cuomo proposals.

The cornerstone of the proposal is a requirement that all lawmakers report income of over $1,000 from their outside jobs. Lawmakers who work in certain professions such as law or real estate would also have to identify any clients who pay more than $5,000 and list the type of services performed and whether it was related to state government. For lawyers, certain types of legal work — child custody, wills, criminal defense — would be exempt.

Lawmakers would also have to check in using an electronic card to prove their attendance to claim the $172 daily stipend for travel and accommodation.

In addition, the proposal would expand existing state lobbying regulations to cover municipalities with a population of 5,000 or more. The current law applies only to municipalities with 50,000 people or more.