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June 19, 2019

Cuomo wants ethics reforms to also cover NYS Legislature

January 10, 2019
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo photographed during an announcement on reproductive justice in New York at the Barnard College, The Diana Center at Columbia University. January 7, 2019. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

ALBANY — Acknowledging “heartbreaking” scandals that rocked his office but also the rest of state government, Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday promised a “very aggressive” ethics agenda this year that will include reforms to how the Legislature does business.

Cuomo, appearing on upstate public radio’s “The Capitol Connection”, revisited a push he has made in the past to require the Legislature to adhere to the state freedom of information laws that cover the release of public records.

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Currently, the Assembly and Senate, unlike the executive branch, are not bound by the disclosure laws.

Cuomo called the fact “just unbelievable.”

Cuomo’s administration has long been criticized for its handling of records requests, which can take months or even more than a year.

He said he is open to reforms of the law that impact both he executive and legislative branches.

His comments came as the Legislature, which is now completely controlled by the Democrats, has also promised a robust ethics agenda, including measures impacting the governor’s office.

New Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) on Wednesday said her house will pass procurement reforms to “make sure that state contracts are fully vetted.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said his house will also consider contracting reforms in the wake of the scandals that last year led to the conviction of top aides, contractors, and associates of the governor.

But Cuomo, who called the scandals “heartbreaking” to him, argued that corruption has not been limited to the governor’s office.

He noted that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and a top pension system investment official in Controller Thomas DiNapoli’s office all were hit with criminal charges related to their offices in recent years.

Cuomo said he wants to do “real contract procurement.”

He previously said his administration will give a more rigorous review of legislative grants.

Cuomo did not appear inclined, however, to restore the power to the state Controller’s Office to pre-audit state contracts before they can go forward. That power was stripped by the governor and Legislature during his first term.

Cuomo, who has argued the process was too time consuming and had not uncovered potential corruption, said he wants to instead give the controller and attorney general, who also must sign off on state contracts, a questionnaire they can send to state grantees before the contracts are signed off on.

The questionnaire would ask such things as whether they hired a lobbyist or a lawyer, have a relationship with the granting entity, or if there are conflicts of interest involving family members.

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But Cuomo wants to limit the contract sign off process to 30 days “because we also have to function.”

Other reforms Cuomo said he wants is campaign finance reform and creation of a state campaign public financing system, ideas the Legislature has long pushed.The governor said he will unveil his 2019-20 budget on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Cuomo, who a week ago on the same radio program said Joe Biden would be the Democrats’ best choice for President, downplayed any interest in being the former vice president’s running mate in 2020.

Cuomo said he is focused on his job as governor and argued that Biden would likely pick someone from a state the Democrats need to win. New York is already solidly blue.

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