“Legislating Ethics”

In Columns by Hal Peterson0 Comments

A good friend who is a retired attorney recommended I take a look at the new “Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011” (PIRA) that was a dominant theme of the governor pre-election ethics reform campaign. This legislation (S-5679-2011) was sponsored in the Senate by Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos will, using a memorandum just published by the compliance practice of Greenberg-Traurig “dramatically changes the landscape for public officials who have outside business interests; and, for the first time the public will be able to learn of the names of clients of public officials who have outside practices, determine nearly the exact amount that public officials earn from outside activities and whether those outside activities are related to State business.”

Least you get too enthralled, please consider the following. Back in 2007 the Public Employees Ethics Reform Act became law. It proved to be less than effective. Wonder why? When enacted, this law did not apply to state legislators or employees of the Legislature.

The new legislation now creates a Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) that has the authority to govern state legislators. Read the fine print. This new commission is not empowered to impose penalties —–that remains the concern of yet another entity, the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Scandals seem to be ever present in our state legislature and there is no way to predict how the new commission will monitor the behavior of our elected officials. What is clear is that the new rules pose substantial compliance issues for the entities that do business with New York State Government and public officials.

You are probably not aware that on March 10, 2011, the United States District Court, Southern District of New York charged Brooklyn Assemblyman William F. Boland Jr. with two counts of conspiracy and one count of money laundering. On May 31, 2011 the Legislative Ethic Commission reaffirmed in a “Notice of Reasonable Cause” that Boyland “maintained a financial relationship with Brookdale Hospital which constituted a substantial conflict of interest with the proper discharge of his duties as a Member of the New York State Assembly.”

The plot thickens as explained in the indictment. He also had a $177,368 “consulting job” with the Brookdale Hospital that was “given to him in exchange for undertaking action to benefit MediSys Health Network……as the opportunity arose.” The indictment includes allegations that Boyland requested $3 million in State funding for MediSys and met with the Commissioner of the NYS Department of Health regarding their acquisition of another hospital.

It is hard to even imagine the circumstances described. Assemblyman William F. Boyland Jr. still serves on six committees while awaiting his day in court in October.

On June 13th Senator Skelos stated the passage of the new Public Integrity Reform Act “is a big step in restoring public trust in government.” I hope he is right and I encourage him to keep the readers of the Herald advised on how the use of this new legislation is being effectively applied.

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