GOP Nassau legislators eye ban on felons holding county office

GOP Nassau legislators eye ban on felons holding county office
Nassau County Legislator Steven D. Rhoads (R-Bellmore) speaks at a news conference in Mineola on Monday, May 1, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Republican Nassau County legislators want to bar anyone convicted of corruption crimes from ever holding public office.

The lawmakers filed a bill Monday that would prohibit any felon convicted of any of eight specific offenses from being elected to countywide offices or appointed to any Nassau boards or commissions.

New York State law already strips felons of their right to hold offices. But the GOP law would extend the prohibition to convicted felons who have received a court waiver restoring their voting rights, officials said.

“The purpose of this law is very simple: to stop felons from pursuing public office and to keep the bad actors away from positions of public responsibility,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said at a news conference Monday in Mineola.

The law would apply to anyone convicted of felonies involving bribery, embezzlement of public money, extortion, theft, perjury, fraud, tax evasion or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes.

Several states have similar provisions in place, but in New York, convicted felons can seek a court order restoring their rights to vote and run for office if they show good behavior. The Nassau bill mirrors one proposed but not passed in Albany, Gonsalves said.

The bill will go to the Legislature’s Rules Committee later this month and then, if approved, to the full Legislature. County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, said he will sign the bill if it passes.

“It appears the legislation has the support to pass and will likely become law,” he said in a statement.

The Republicans cast their law as a continuation of reforms implemented in the wake of corruption scandals centered in Nassau.

The most recent came in October, when Mangano was arrested on federal corruption charges stemming from an alleged bribe and kickback scheme. Nine of the 12 GOP legislators asked Mangano to resign a month ago; he has refused to do so.

In 2015 the Legislature lowered the threshold for legislative review of county contracts to $1,000 from $25,000 after Newsday reported that hundreds of pacts had been approved for amounts just lower than the threshold.

Another measure passed that year required contractors to disclose donations to candidates for county offices. But a Newsday report earlier this year found that loopholes in the law allowed companies to donate money to political clubs and donate after submitting the disclosure forms.

Democratic legislators said they would support the bill, but said it would do nothing to prevent corruption and waste.

“They are now closing the barn door after the horses are already out,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said at a separate news conference. “So from our standpoint this bill does nothing.”

The Democrats again asked Republicans to support their proposal for an independent inspector general to oversee and investigate county contracts, as recommended by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.

Mangano and Republican legislators have said the inspector general is unnecessary because the county’s commissioner of investigations has the same powers.

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