The guilty verdict in ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption trial prompted renewed calls to reform the state’s ethics laws, but it’s unclear if lawmakers will agree on changes.
Silver’s successor Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said the “Assembly majority remains committed to exploring ideas” for reform, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform.” However, executive director of Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Jennifer Rodgers, says the best idea may be one that’s already been rejected: making legislators full time.
Rodgers says going full-time could eliminate the option of earning outside income, a right that led to trouble for Silver.
“Our legislators are actually busy, they meet a lot. If you count the campaigning time that they have to do and constituent services, it really is a full-time job. So I think it should be treated as full-time job,” she said. “And also, not incidentally, it would take care of these issues with outside income, which as strict as your restrictions are and ours are not nearly strict enough, it’s still hard to take care of all of the potential problems there. So I agree, a full-time Legislature would be the ideal situation here.”
But Rodgers said she was not optimistic that it would happen, and Politico New York recently reported Cuomo claimed the Legislature had “no appetite” for the change.
However, Rodgers said legislators may not be the only ones hesitant to make the switch.
“It’s also the case that the citizens don’t want to pay them more, which you would certainly have to do in order to make it a full-time legislature,” she said.
Rodgers says reforms that increase transparency and disclosure rules may also help address the situation, but either way, the sight of the Assembly’s second-longest serving speaker in handcuffs should spur action.
“I hope that seeing their leader and colleague now go down for this conduct, they will finally be willing to change the rules to be more restrictive so that they don’t get in the same hot water themselves,” she said.