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Albany fails on ethics Senate's inability to pass reform leaves needed changes still undone

News flash: There are still no ethics in Albany. The Senate says so.

The Senate recently refused to approve an ethics overhaul already passed in the Assembly. The reason had to do with one senator's illness, but even if it had passed, Gov. David A. Paterson said he wouldn't sign it. Both the Senate and the governor have their reasons -- and not preposterous ones -- but when is Albany going to get this right?

The fact is that many good government groups favored the Assembly bill. It would have represented a step forward from the ethical swamp in which Albany now walks. It failed in the Senate because one Democratic senator, whose father died that week, was absent.

With that one missing vote, Democrats couldn't muster the 32 needed to pass the bill. Republicans objected to the measure because, they said, it gives Democrats too much power in naming members of the proposed new ethics commission.
They have half a point, given that the law would give three votes to the governor and one each to the attorney general, comptroller and the four legislative leaders. As things stand today, that would give Democrats seven votes and Republicans two -- a Democratic Party "hit unit," according to one Queens Republican.

Paterson, meanwhile, more plausibly complains that the bill even allows officeholders to make appointments to the commission. He would prefer -- and so would we -- to allow an independent commission to choose the members. He would also include former judges. Inarguably, such a system could create greater independence and contribute, importantly, to the perception of independence by an increasingly skeptical and suspicious public.
It's not that the plan that failed in the Senate is awful. Although sitting officeholders would appoint the members, the measure would have created greater accountability than previous systems by providing terms of office that would insulate members from political pressure.

But Albany is held in such disrepute by New Yorkers that elected officials need to take all reasonable steps to rehabilitate their reputations. Recent polls have given state government its lowest rating ever, and no wonder: A former Senate majority leader is under indictment, a former comptroller pleaded guilty to a felony, a former governor stepped down when he got caught patronizing high-priced prostitutes. And that's just for starters.

In that kind of environment, Paterson clearly has the better idea and, given the closeness of the Senate vote, the Legislature would be unlikely to override his pending veto. Leaders of both the Senate and Assembly have said they would be willing to discuss changes with the governor.

They should do that. They should discuss. They should fix the legislation. They should approve it. And they should start conducting themselves in a way that will someday make New Yorkers wonder why such strict oversight was ever needed.

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