Tough Fight to Make NY Government More Open

12:58 AM, Feb 15, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - You would think that any attempt to make government more open and shed light on how your tax dollars are being spent would be welcomed by lawmakers, right?

For one local lawmaker, this effort has been tough with a bill that he's introduced that would make some spending more transparent.

But there's a problem, he can't find a co-sponsor.

The bill, which has been proposed by Assemblymember Mickey Kearns, (D - 142nd District), stems in part, from a recent shady deal.

Vito Lopez, a downstate lawmaker settled a sexual harassment lawsuit involving staffers last summer. Taxpayer dollars were used, and it was approved by Speaker Sheldon Silver, but was kept a secret for some time.

When you look at the fine print of the bill, victims in these settlement cases would be protected if the parties agreed to it.

"Having secret settlements is or behind the scenes settlements is not a positive, it's not good government," said Kearns.

The proposed law targets secrecy and specifically tries to make details on settlements with public or private institutions or companies available to the public. For the information relating to the settlements to be released, a judge needs to rule that the settlement affects the public.

So, this bill would affect schools, legislatures and private companies.

"This is a very controversial issue, this is something that you're talking about where in essence it's not going to be popular, when you talk about changing things that's not a good thing," Kearns added.

Two On Your Side's Jeff Preval attempted to contact members of the assembly to ask if they'll co-sponsor Kearns' bill. 

We reached out to several lawmakers about the bill to find out where they stood.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes says she hasn't seen the bill and needs more info. Jane Corwin is uneasy about it because of its possible impacts on the private sector. Assemblyman Ray Walter is unsure and wants to hear the bill debated. Most lawmakers did even call us back like, Assemblymembers John Ceretto, David DiPietro, Speaker Silver, Assemblymembers Robin Schimminger and Sean Ryan.

We did find one lawmaker who said that he does support the proposed law, but stopped short of co-sponsoring it. 

"It's taxpayer dollars, I have no problem with the disclosure of that," Dennis Gabryszak, (D - 143rd District).

 

 

Kearns is still working on getting a co-sponsor for the bill. He says he's found a state senator who's considering introducing it in that chamber.

The bill could be debated as soon as next week. We understand Erie County legislators could be debating a local version of the law later this month.

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