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Senate's turn on ethics Independent reviews clearly needed to curb abuses by an entrenched culture

The State Legislature is scheduled to return to work next week and among its top priorities should be finishing work on the urgent matter of ethics reform. The Assembly has already passed a good bill that accomplishes many worthwhile goals. The Senate should follow suit by passing a bill on which both chambers can quickly agree.

The need for a strong ethics commission should be beyond dispute, given all that has happened in Albany over the past few years. Only last month, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada had arranged for his son, Pedro G. Espada, to be hired as the Senate's "deputy director of intergovernmental relations."

The younger Espada, the New York Post reported, had no apparent qualifications for the job, didn't know where his office was, couldn't log onto his computer, hadn't quit his previous job at a New York City health club and, as a capper, may not even have been living in New York. Such is the state of ethics in the State of New York.

In answer to that problem, the Legislature should specifically create a new ethics office charged with investigating the legislative branch of government. The board should not include legislators and no one legislator could dominate appointments. Its executive director should serve a set term, and could not be removed except for specific causes.

In addition, the Legislature should abolish the Commission on Public Integrity that was formed early in the administration of former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and whose members were dominated by gubernatorial appointments.

In its place, lawmakers should create a new commission empowered to oversee the executive branch of government. Again, it should not be dominated by the governor -- or any elected official, for that matter. Its executive director should also be shielded from political pressure through a set term and removal only for cause.

Finally, a new lobbying commission should be formed along similar lines.

There is reason to think these reforms could pass. A new Quinnipiac University poll reports that 77 percent of New Yorkers think the State Legislature is dysfunctional and 72 percent disapprove of the way the Legislature is handling its job. It's the lowest score ever in this survey. It was also the second poll in a month to find that voters are itching to dump their current state senator.

What that means is this: Senators have good reason to curry favor with their increasingly disgusted constituents. Approving these changes would make a good start.

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