ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Senate was scheduled to hold a hearing Monday on government ethics oversight and enforcement, but it was postponed to avoid a possible violation of Open Meetings Law.
State lawmakers have been accustomed to Zooming in to conduct business throughout the pandemic. But the recent end of the COVID-19 state disaster emergency put a wrench into the Senate Ethics Committee’s hearing plans.
“Because there is no question that we will not even give the perception of violating the Open Meetings Law, we are postponing it until we have clarity on the issue,” said Committee Chair Alessandra Biaggi.
Lawmakers were ready to meet for a hybrid in-person/remote hearing, but it never launched because the Committee on Open Government raised concerns. There were questions about whether all the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee members participating had to physically be in the room.
Republican Senator Anthony Palumbo, who sat waiting, said, “Now we have two majorities that are looking to “fix” the system and we can’t even get the public hearing right. It’s embarrassing.”
The Executive Director of New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, was scheduled to testify. The Commission has been the subject of criticism for its handling of numerous scandals into the Cuomo Administration. Several “good government” groups were also set to speak along with members of other state ethics committees.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized JCOPE.
“This is something that in theory makes sense, but in practical effect, it’s been a disaster,” said Sen. Palumbo.
“JCOPE is very much a fortress. And, we want to have some peeling away of that because it is a public entity, they do serve the public and they are, yes, overseeing the state and the legislature in terms of ethics, but at the same time, the public does deserve transparency, which is the point of the hearing,” Sen. Biaggi said.
There’s been no new date set for the hearing, but Biaggi says she hopes it will be arranged as soon as possible.