ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a package of proposed reforms Tuesday aimed at rooting out government corruption.
Cuomo said the current state anti-corruption laws are “obsolete” and has proposed the “Public Trust Act,” which among other things, would give district attorneys around the state more power to hold elected officials accountable.
“When it comes to public integrity, you can’t have enough police officers on the beat, right? You can’t have enough sets of eyes,” Cuomo said.
The Public Trust Act would impose tougher jail sentences on people who misuse public money and bar convicted officials from holding office again, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.
“Crimes of public corruption should be treated more seriously than other white collar crimes because when they break the law, they also break the public trust that the people have placed in government,” Cuomo said.
The reform proposals follow a drumbeat of recent corruption charges against New York officials.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith is accused of trying to rig the 2013 mayoral race. Councilman Dan Halloran is accused of taking bribes to help Smith. State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson is accused of taking bribes for writing legislation.
State Assemblyman Nelson Castro was caught in an alleged scheme to illegally register voters.
“I’d like to say that this is an unprecedented situation, that public corruption is a new problem, but it isn’t,” Cuomo told reporters, including CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
The proposals outline new crimes for violating the public trust, including bribery of a public servant, corrupting the government and failure to report public corruption.
The governor’s office said new provisions in the proposal would bring the state’s law in line with the federal standard. Currently, a prosecutor must prove there was a corrupt agreement or understanding between the person paying the bribe and the person receiving the bribe.
However, under the new proposal, prosecutors would have to only prove the person paying the bribe intended to influence the public official or that the person receiving it intended to be influenced.
The proposed legislation would target even non-public officials for the charge of “corrupting the government.”
“Under the new law, anybody, whether acting in concert with a public servant or not, who engages in a course of conduct to defraud a state or local government would be guilty of a crime ranging from the fourth degree (class E felony) to the first degree (class B felony), depending on the amount defrauded,” a release from the governor’s office said.
The new proposals would also make it a misdemeanor for any public official or employee to fail to report bribery.
“Let us affirm and expand a simple fact — if you are a public official and if you break the law, you will get caught, you will be prosecuted and you will go to jail,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he is also considering other ethics reforms like paying lawmakers higher salaries to make bribes less appealing.
The governor said that making the Legislature a full-time job might prevent a lot of corruption and conflicts of interest, but he also said that having the Senate and Assembly sit 12 months a year might scare a lot of people.
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