Our Views: Time to end politics as usual in Albany

Our Views: Time to end politics as usual in Albany

The state Legislature’s usual response to criminal convictions has been similar to that of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s satirical movie the “Holy Grail” each time King Arthur swung a sword and cut off another of his limbs.

“Tis just a scratch,” he would say, while continuing to battle and continuing to lose limbs.

That seemed to be the reaction of state Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) in response to the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

DeFrancisco, who has been criticized for owning a law firm specializing in malpractice litigation while sponsoring bills relating to malpractice law in the state, said he didn’t believe the convictions would spur changes because Silver and Skelos were convicted of breaking laws that already exist, according to a Newsday report.

Set aside the point that the laws he was referring to are federal laws not state laws which are far weaker, but is that really the standard we want to set for state legislators — more than 30 of whom have been removed or forced from office by corruption investigations in the last 10 years? 

Anything goes just short of federal conviction — even the blatantly unethical?

Up to this point, the answer from members of the state Legislature has actually been yes. 

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, state Sen. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) presented some sensible reforms beginning with making jobs in the state Legislature full-time.

As a Lavine pointed out, the Legislature is scheduled to spend just 57 days in Albany between Jan. 6 and June 16 in 2016, leaving legislators little time to review the state budget or the 10,000 bills that come before them — or look over the shoulders of their leaders. Hence the three-men-in-a-room system in which the governor Senator majority leader and Assembly speaker made all the decisions. For Silver and Skelos, this becamr known as motive and opportunity,

Lavine also recommended that like members of Congress state legislators be barred from engaging in outside employment and the elimination of what he termed “slush funds” under the control of the leadership.

We would add to the list an independent redistricting commission that would take the decision of how legislative boundaries are drawn out of the hands of the legislators, who have consistently placed their own interested above those of voters. Add to that laws that give district attorneys the same tools to prosecute political corruption as federal prosecutors.

It is also time to reform the state campaign finance laws that are an open invitation the famous pay-to-play system beginning with the so-called LLC exemption, which makes a mockery of the state’s already ridiculously generous limit of $65,100 for statewide races.

Under this exemption, a business can form as many limited liability corporations as it wants and contribute $65,100 through each one. New Hyde Park-based real estate developer Glenwood Management, which played a central role in the Silver and Skelos trials perfected this technique.

The Silver and Skelos trials gave voters a good education in how political corruption undermines good government.

To avoid future replays, the rot in Albany should not be just another issue in the next election, it should be the defining issue in the next election for all state legislators.

And anyone unwilling to reform the Legislature should be rejected from serving in it.

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