Assembly Fails to Pass Pension Forfeiture Bill Part of Ethics Legislation

Lawmakers wrapped up voting on the $142-billion budget early Wednesday, but the Assembly failed to pass a key portion of the ethics legislation: a pension forfeiture bill. Zack Fink filed the following report.

After the Assembly missed a midnight deadline for passing an on-time state budget, voting continued until about 3 a.m. 

The assumption was that the Assembly would pass all of the budget bills outlined in the agreement announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of both houses. That includes a pension forfeiture bill.

"Pension forfeiture is very important. I think the average person is shocked that it doesn't already exist in law," said Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky of Long Island. "The fact that people could be convicted of public corruption and still get their pensions, I think sticks in the craw for a lot of people."

But it turns out voting on the forfeiture bill was not completed. In a statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie vowed to get to it, saying, "For this to apply to officials who entered the retirement system before enactment of the pension forfeiture law in 2011, we need to adopt a resolution amending the State Constitution. The Assembly will adopt an implementing resolution to accomplish this when we return to session."

The forfeiture bill would apply to recently convicted state Senator Malcolm Smith, but it would also be retroactive to any public official convicted of corruption. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver could also find himself on the wrong end of this law if he were to get convicted on federal corruption charges.

But some Democrats had concerns about the forfeiture bill, which may explain why voting on it was delayed.

"We have to be very, very careful once we start tinkering and trying to change the New York State Constitution without having any public hearings whatsoever, when you're talking about all public officials," said Assemblyman Keith Wright of Manhattan.

The forfeiture bill was one of the stronger provisions in a larger ethics package pushed by the governor. Although Cuomo mainly emphasized the new disclosure requirements, when asked about the ethics reforms last week, he said, "This issue has plagued Albany for probably 50 years, and the potential conflict of a lawyer/legislator, who also has a law firm."

The ethics package includes a tightening of the rules governing the reimbursements lawmakers receive when they travel to Albany. That measure passed along with the disclosure. 

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