The Buffalo News: Don’t Leave Albany Without Campaign Finance/Ethics Reform [Editorial]

State Legislature has much to do before it adjourns

The Buffalo News

June 11, 2013

The official end of the 2013 session of the New York State Legislature arrives in nine days. Lawmakers have a lot of work to do before then. Here are some of the most important measures on the Legislature’s docket – issues that have shown themselves to be important to the state.

Campaign finance/ethics reform

Albany remains a cesspool of corruption. Every year, it seems, elected officials, including members of the Assembly and Senate, are unmasked as thieves, cheats or manipulators gaming the system for their own benefit. They extend from the rank and file to the leaders of each chamber to independently elected officeholders such as former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

It has become so predictable and so bad that Albany needs to revamp its entire system of financing elections, providing for a public match of funds that will give potential candidates without deep pockets a chance to run against entrenched and financially flush incumbents.

Other reforms need to take place, as well, including a ban on campaign consultants cashing in on their success by suddenly turning corporate lobbyist. It’s a scam, and the public pays.

Peace Bridge

Legislation by two Buffalo lawmakers to put the Peace Bridge Authority on the same standing as New York’s other public authorities is a step in the right direction. The bill, by Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, would require the authority to carry debt or go out of business.

Strategically, that could ultimately ensure that the authority makes a higher priority of projects important on this side of the Niagara River, including a modernized plaza that can handle traffic more efficiently. If the authority can’t ensure progress here, then the change would force it out of business, at which point a more responsive and transparent governing structure could be created.

Tax-free communities

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic development proposal for New York – with a special emphasis on upstate – remains vague in its details but significant enough that lawmakers should be demanding those details.

Under the governor’s general proposal, new businesses that locate on or adjacent to a SUNY campus or some private colleges will pay no state taxes for 10 years and their employees will pay no state income taxes for at least five years. Conceptually, it is a fascinating plan that will cost the state virtually nothing, since it would be producing jobs that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.

The plan offers a path around New York’s well-deserved reputation as a high-tax state and, with most SUNY campuses located upstate, it would disproportionately benefit that region, which has lingered in the shadow of the downstate behemoth.

Criminal justice

At least four issues are crying out for attention. Three would improve public safety or make it more difficult for some defendants to evade responsibility, while the fourth would help to diminish the chances of arresting and convicting innocent people.

Jay J.’s Law would enact stricter penalties on repeat child abusers. It is named for a 3-year-old Western New York boy who suffered 11 broken bones and brain damage at the hands of his father. Under the legislation’s provisions, Jay J. Bolvin’s father could have been sentenced to 25 years in prison instead of 16 months to four years.

Alix’s Law would require any driver coming in contact with any object to investigate and report property damage or contact with a person. It is meant to address the circumstances surrounding the death of Alix Rice, 18, who was skateboarding when Dr. James G. Corasanti fatally struck her with his car. He drove off and later testified that he didn’t know he had hit Alix. He was sentenced to one year in jail upon conviction for driving while intoxicated and was recently released after serving two-thirds of the term.

Jackie’s Law is named for Jackie Wisniewski, who was stalked and murdered by Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., who then killed himself. Jorden had installed a GPS tracking device in Wisniewski’s vehicle. The law would make it a felony to install such a tracking device in order to stalk another person.

Finally, Cuomo endorsed measures earlier this year to diminish the chances of wrongful conviction, a phenomenon with which Western New Yorkers are all too familiar. Among its measures are reforms to procedures for witness identification and a requirement to record police interrogations. Those two reforms, alone, would guard against two of most common causes of wrongful conviction, a travesty that not only destroys innocent lives, but leaves the actual criminals on the loose to commit new crimes.

Greenway legislation

Another bill sponsored by Ryan and Grisanti would put some starch into the rules for dispensing money meant for the Niagara River Greenway. The program was designed to create a linear system of parks along the Niagara River, but has been used for projects far from its banks that have no connection to parks. This law would help to ensure that the $450 million, available over a period of 50 years, is spent for the intended purpose.

Women’s equality agenda

While debate about Cuomo’s 10-point proposal has focused on its codifying of existing abortion law, it addresses many other important issues, including pay equity, sexual harassment, domestic violence, human trafficking and various forms of discrimination. It deserves approval by the Legislature.

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