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Will ethics reform be sequel to Women’s Equality Agenda?

3/11/14 · By Casey Seller · Times Union

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appeared at a Tuesday rally to declare that public financing of elections will be included in his chamber’s one-house budget, which is expected Wednesday. And while it’s unclear what other elements of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ethics agenda — currently tucked into the executive budget proposal — will be included in the Assembly package, it’s a near-certainty that public financing won’t make it into the Senate’s one-house budget.

While the fervent progressive desire for public financing is favored by Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein, it’s staunchly opposed by Republicans, including GOP leader Dean Skelos.

The Skelos-controlled Rules Committee on Friday submitted Cuomo’s ethics proposals as separate bills. Neither the GOP nor the IDC will explain what that action portends — nothing for Tuesday, according to sources — it certainly isn’t a sign that the Senate one-house budget will include these measures.

As noted in today’s TU, public financing would likely fail if it came to a floor vote: Even if all Democrats and IDC members voted for it, the bill would fall one vote short of 32.

The Assembly’s one-house measure won’t include at least one element of Cuomo’s package: handing District Attorneys an expanded definition of bribery that would eliminate the strict requirement for a “quid pro quo” between bagmen and public officials. This provision is included in the Senate’s quartet of bills that follow Cuomo’s proposals.

A theory being floated by some at the Capitol hypothesizes that the ethics question could play out in much the same way that the Women’s Equality Agenda went down to defeat last year.

Regular readers will recall that the Assembly passed an omnibus version of that bill that included a controversial plank codifying abortion rights. Because that element was opposed by Republicans as “abortion expansion,” the Senate took the 10 planks as separate bills (a last-minute tactic approved by Cuomo and advocates for the full package as the session neared its end). On the last day of session, the Senate passed the nine unobjectionable ones, never acted on the abortion plank — despite Klein’s effort to insert it as a hostile amendment — and called on the Assembly to pass them in a la carte fashion — which the chamber did not do.

Thus, no elements of the Women’s Equality Agenda made it to the governor’s desk.

If this year’s ethics push followed this play, the Assembly could pass anything Cuomo wants in omnibus fashion secure in the knowledge that the Senate will never pass such a measure as long is it includes public financing. In turn, the Senate could pass the other ethics fixes as separate bills, equally secure in the knowledge that the Assembly will take the same kind of all-or-nothing stance they adopted (and continue to adopt) on the WEA.

Both houses would therefore be able to say they took action on ethics, but no bills would advance to the governor’s desk.

Of course, plenty of initiatives appear in one-house budgets but fail to make it to the reconciled budget. And plenty of non-fiscal proposals fall out of the budget only to be taken up in the three months remaining in the legislative session.

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