ALBANY — The Democratic-led state Senate plans to throw the book at New York’s embattled watchdog Joint Commission on Public Ethics Tuesday, preparing to pass legislation overhauling the panel.
Although JCOPE has long been criticized for its lack of transparency and close ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the last straw came several weeks ago following revelations that the entire commission never discussed or voted to approve the governor’s outside income related to his controversial, $5.1 million book deal.
Instead, it was secretly greenlit by staff — enraging commissioners who later launched an investigation into the dealings.
But a new ‘JCOPE Reform’ bill was introduced late last week by state Senate Ethics Committee Chair Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx) and aimed at reforming the board, as first reported by NY1.
The bill would strip majority control over board appointments and allow both legislative leaders — from majority and minority conference in both the state Senate and Assembly — to each name two appointees to the 14-member board.
The move would alter the current structure which grants the governor and controlling party power over the majority of appointments.
It would also change the partisan panel’s voting requirements, instead making it easier to launch an ethics investigation into a legislator, state employee or statewide elected official, or determine them guilty of violations.
The measure has yet to gain a companion sponsor in the state Assembly — a necessary requirement to clear the Legislature and then put in front of Cuomo to either sign into law or deny.
A representative for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office was not available for immediate comment.
The legislative session also ends on June 11, meaning lawmakers must act fast.
But the move also signifies an urgency to enact change.
Cuomo’s office wrote to JCOPE staff last summer seeking permission for the third-term Democrat to contract with a Crown Publishing to write his pandemic-era memoir ‘American Crisis.’
The Buffalo News reported the request was approved in ten days internally.
Commissioners have called the action “illegal,” arguing the authorization should have been debated by the full panel.
The governor’s handling of the deal as well as allegations that he used state resources to write the manuscript is now the subject of multiple investigations initiated by the feds, Attorney General Letitia James’s office and is also part of the state Assembly’s impeachment inquiry.
JCOPE has consistently come under fire over the years.
Last year the agency conducted an internal probe after a whistleblower alleged Cuomo and Heastie (D-The Bronx) knew about secret deliberations among commissioners into whether or not they would open an inquiry into the governor’s disgraced former aide, Joe Percoco.
Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes and now sits in Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, and it was revealed he was performing campaign work in Cuomo’s office during his 2014 re-election campaign making phone calls — using government resources for campaign activity is a violation of New York’s public officers law.
If passed by both chambers and signed by the governor, it would take effect immediately.
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