ALBANY, N.Y.—In an effort to give prosecutors more tools to fight political corruption, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the Public Trust Act on Tuesday.
If enacted, the new laws would give district attorneys more power to combat public corruption, and would, for the first time, require public officials to report suspected corrupt actions by their colleagues or face a misdemeanor.
“When it comes to public integrity, you can’t have enough cops on the beat,” Cuomo said. “If you are a public official and you break the law, you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will go to jail.”
The Public Trust Act would codify new crimes and increase penalties for violating existing anti-corruption laws. The proposal highlights specific violations such as bribing a public official, scheming to corrupt the government and failing to report public corruption.
“The public expects elected officials to conduct their business ethically, honestly, and it’s time our laws caught up with reality,” said Cyrus Vance, Manhattan district attorney and head of the state district attorneys association.
“These are very sound proposals and they have support from district attorneys across our state,” Vance said at a Manhattan news conference.
Included among the news tools available to the DAs in the proposed set of laws is the ability for witnesses to receive only partial immunity when testifying before a grand jury. Witnesses in federal cases also receive only partial immunity, and this means witnesses may be subject to being prosecuted by a local district attorney.
Vance called the procedure change “huge,” adding that the current law impedes investigations.
“When you put a witness in the grand jury, the state prosecutor should not be shooting in the dark,” Vance said.
The proposal would also hold former elected officials to a five year statute of limitation for their acts once they leave an elected body. Former elected officials have been involved in some of Albany’s most notorious cases.
Public officials for the first time would face a misdemeanor if they fail to report suspected corruption by a colleague. Former state ethics commission Executive Director Karl Sleight told The Associated Press on Monday that this was a key element missing from the many attempts at ethics reform from Albany.
Cuomo wants the Legislature to approve the measures this session, which ends June 20.
Following the arrests last week, good government groups such as Citizen’s Union called on the Governor to empower the Attorney General to initiate and pursue allegations of public corruption.
Cuomo said this package of bills was the first step and hopes campaign finance reform would also be addressed, but stopped short on backing giving the attorney general more power.
“I think the attorney general can be helpful in campaign finance enforcement and board of election enforcement,” Cuomo said. “”The district attorneys are the primary law enforcement agents in this state. That is why we are speaking with them.”
Full Time Legislature
Cuomo also raised the possibility of making the Legislature full-time. Currently lawmakers who are paid a base of $79,500 a year are considered part-time, although most make over $100,000 through leadership stipends and per-diem payments for being Albany.
Cuomo said full time legislature would also be problematic, jokingly saying, “Some people think if they are in Albany more, they would do more harm.”
Spokesman for the Assembly’s Democratic majority and the traditional Democratic conference in the Senate said they are reviewing the proposal and declined extensive comment.
“In light of the charges brought last week by the U.S. attorney against members of the Legislature, we must redouble our efforts to create a government New Yorkers can be proud of,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.
There was no immediate comment from the Independent Democratic Conference which runs the Senate with the Republican conference.
Epoch Times staff member Kristen Meriwether contributed to this report.