Governor Andrew Cuomo; AP Photo
By Jon Campbell
ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed altering the state's criminal law to give local prosecutors more latitude when investigating public corruption cases, including the creation of a new misdemeanor charge if a public official doesn't report a bribery attempt.
Cuomo laid out the "Public Trust Act" at a news conference at his Manhattan, one week after Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, was charged by federal prosecutors with trying to bribe his way onto the Republican ballot in New York City's mayoral race. Two days later, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, was charged in a separate bribery case.
The proposed law would create three new state-level crimes: bribing a public servant, scheming to corrupt the government and failure to report public corruption. The charges would vary from misdemeanors to felonies depending on the severity of the crime and which charge is pressed.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said he will push to pass the bill before the end of the state's legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude June 20.
"I want to strike when the iron is hot," Cuomo said. "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."
The measures would bring New York more in line with federal law, which generally is broader when it comes to corruption. District attorneys have long said the state's criminal law has handcuffed their efforts to bring charges in bribery cases.
Cuomo's proposal was backed by the state District Attorneys Association, which represents county-level prosecutors.
"I think for sure these laws will empower the (district attorneys) to bring these types of cases all over the state," Cuomo said.
The governor said he will also make a push to reform the state's campaign finance laws and electoral system, declaring his proposal Monday "step one" of the process.
The state last passed an ethics reform law in 2011, creating an ethics board that is more independent of the state's executive and legislative branches. But critics say the board has been ineffective and hamstrung by the way the law was written, which allows a small minority of the board's members to thwart a potential investigation.