- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Negotiations over a proposal to strip pensions from corrupt lawmakers continue in Albany - though broader ethics reforms appear to be going nowhere despite two recent scandals involving their leaders.

Lawmakers hope to approve language for a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to revoke the pensions of state officials convicted of corruption. So far, however, the Assembly and Senate can’t agree on the wording, and lawmakers expect to conclude their 2016 session next month.

Supporters say taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the pensions of lawmakers who violated the public trust. Good government groups support the move but say more is needed to address a wave of corruption that has seen more than 30 lawmakers leave office facing allegations of corruption or misconduct since 2000.

In the past month alone, Democratic former Speaker Sheldon Silver and former GOP Senate Leader Dean Skelos were sentenced to federal prison following unrelated corruption convictions. Both are eligible for state retirement pay, though in both cases the men have been asked to pay sizeable fines that equal or exceed their annual pensions.

Ethics proposals to enact term limits, restrict the money lawmakers make from outside jobs or tighten notoriously loose campaign finance laws have stalled after passing one chamber or the other.

“The deafening sound of crickets,” is how Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group described progress on significant ethics reforms. “There’s been no evidence (of progress) that we’ve seen.”

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, a Westchester County Democrat in the Legislature for 24 years, had proposed 15 separate ethics reforms, many to curb the flow of money, saying the leaders’ convictions made this the year to do something. The bills include new rules to limit transferring money between campaign accounts and a prohibition on political fundraisers in Albany during the legislative session.

“I do feel like people are listening now,” she said earlier this year.

Pension forfeiture could end up being the year’s greatest accomplishment when it comes to addressing Albany corruption - if the Senate and Assembly can resolve a dispute over whether it should apply to non-elected state officials.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said Monday that the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached a deal on pension forfeiture a year ago. But the Assembly passed its own, different version that would only apply to the pensions of elected officials and not non-elected state workers.

“What we passed was the right thing,” Flanagan said Monday. “In part because it’s good public policy, and more importantly that’s the deal we agreed to.”

A spokesman for the Assembly Democrats said deliberations are ongoing with the aim of passing a bill this year.

An earlier pension forfeiture law doesn’t apply to lawmakers elected before 2011. A constitutional amendment is needed to cover lawmakers who were elected earlier and would need to be approved a second time, perhaps next year, to be placed on the ballot.

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