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Another Voice: Assembly Republicans have pushed ethics reforms

By Raymond Walter

No, not all state lawmakers are silent when it comes to the culture of corruption in Albany, as The Buffalo News Feb. 8 editorial states. The fact that it goes unreported doesn’t mean efforts aren’t being made.

For years Assembly Republicans have been demanding ethics reforms and changes to our broken system.

I entered this year with optimism that real reform was going to be made and again joined my colleagues to introduce legislation and rules changes that ensure that New Yorkers receive responsible, open government.

Unfortunately, as was the case under Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corrupt reign, our efforts were rebuffed by Assembly Democrats and Speaker Carl Heastie.

My Republican colleagues and I, as we have for years, proposed 17 common-sense, good-government reforms to change how the Assembly functions. These rule changes would return power to the rank-and-file members and end the concentration of power in the speaker’s office that led to the conviction of Silver.

One such reform would require a bill with a majority of legislators as cosponsors to be brought up for a vote and not simply held at the whim of the speaker. Another reform would require transparency when it comes to votes on amendments and votes in committee. Currently, these votes are not easily available to the public.

We also sought to enact term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairmen. Too many committees have had the same chairmen for decades. They hold up common-sense legislation that threatens their center of power. Committees should be a place where legislation is studied and hearings are conducted, not where a career politician can dictate if a bill meets his personal standards.

Sadly, all 17 of these reforms were, once again, voted down along party lines.

We have also proposed comprehensive ethics reform legislation like the Public Officers Accountability Act (A.04617) that would, among other things, make any state officials convicted of a felony forfeit their state pensions. It is shocking that someone who defrauds the public can collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money after being convicted, like Silver and Dean Skelos are doing. This legislation has also been blocked time and time again.

Assembly Democrats who talk about the need for ethics reform had a chance to act, but chose the corrupt status quo over their constituents. The people deserve better, and it’s high time we stop allowing political games to stand in the way of real reform.

I will continue to beat the drum for change until our calls are heard, action is taken and trust is rightfully restored.

Raymond Walter, R-Amherst, represents the 146th Assembly District.