- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Assembly issued policy guidance Wednesday intended to ensure lawmakers are actually in Albany when they claim travel expenses.

The guidance effective Saturday followed new requirements enacted in the budget for the fiscal year that began in April that were prompted in part by a recent scandal.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the new policy to verify his 150 members’ presence in Albany can be met with electronic records of committee votes or presence in the Assembly session, a swipe card machine installed in the Legislative Office Building, toll records or dated hotel and restaurant receipts.

“Transparency and accountability in government are essential to earning the public’s trust,” said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, who assumed the chamber’s leadership this year. Using electronic verification will make it more reliable, he said.

Last week, longtime Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough pleaded guilty to theft and fraud, admitting he submitted at least $40,000 in false expense vouchers for per diem expenses when he didn’t travel to Albany. That was from 2009 to 2012. In a letter of apology, he said he took advantage of a travel system where legislators were reimbursed when they said they were in Albany “basically with no questions asked.”

The felony convictions cost Scarborough the Assembly seat he held since 1995. State auditors have been examining other legislators’ reimbursement claims for per diems, which are currently $172 for overnights.

Ethics measures in this year’s budget agreement between legislators and the governor called for both the Assembly and Senate leaders to implement policies to verify attendance and establish a publicly accessible website showing lawmakers’ travel and reimbursement.

Assembly spokeswoman Kerri Biche said they are in the process of putting together the website.

The Senate is determining how best to implement the new system for its 63 members and will be doing it as soon as possible, spokesman Scott Reif said.

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