A day before the New York state Senate is expected to decide whether to expel a senator convicted of misdemeanor assault, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada proposed legislation to require the automatic expulsion of senators in such cases.
The new law wouldn't affect Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat who was convicted of dragging his girlfriend through his apartment building lobby, but was acquitted of a felony. A felony conviction would have automatically cost him his job. Monserrate is appealing the conviction as Democratic leaders decide how to deal with his case.
"I would think everyone engaged in this conversation of expulsion would want clarity, this kind of very defined proposal that says we don't have to speculate, we don't have to have conjecture, that we have specific guidelines," Espada said.
Monserrate and Espada, a Bronx Democrat, teamed up to help Republicans mount a coup that paralyzed the Senate for more than a month last summer.
Espada said Monday he would vote against expelling Monserrate from the Senate. He refused to say whether he would vote to censure his colleague until he sees the censure resolution.
Even if the law had been passed before Monserrate's conviction, he wouldn't face expulsion under the measure Espada proposed Monday. The law wouldn't punish first-time lawmakers for crimes committed between Election Day and swearing in — the window of time when Monserrate was arrested.
The misdemeanors that would merit expulsion under Espada's bill include: third-degree assault; second-degree sexual abuse; and fifth-degree arson, among other violent crimes.
Monserrate was convicted of third-degree assault. His fate in the Senate will likely be decided Tuesday.
"A vote will come tomorrow," said Senate President Malcolm Smith. "I believe if an expulsion resolution comes to the floor that there would be more than sufficient votes, that he would be expelled."
Monserrate's status one of many ethical problems hitting Albany. Espada is currently under investigation by the attorney general's office, which is looking into the use of state grants that went to a health clinic he runs. He denies any impropriety.
Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson has proposed a new ethics bill after vetoing a measure passed by lawmakers. Paterson said the bill they passed was too weak.
Paterson said his new proposal was meant to be a compromise with the Democrat-led Legislature, which unsuccessfully tried to override his veto Monday.
The attempt to override gained enough votes in the Assembly, but it failed in the Senate 35-26. A veto override requires a two-thirds majority. Senate Democrats blamed Republicans for the failed vote, saying they killed ethics reform in Albany.
"It's unbelievable, given the amount of scandal in Albany, that ethics reform was killed today," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It's hard to know what's going to happen next. It's entirely possible that the pathetic status quo will stay in place until next year."
Paterson's bill would create a commission that would, among other things, weigh possible conflicts of interest involving elected officials and their law clients. It would also require disclosure of general details about the lawmakers' income from those clients, apparently without making their clients' identities public. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, both lawyers, have strongly opposed revealing their law clients and outside income.
Paterson said Democratic legislative leaders have resisted his efforts to negotiate a compromise, although lawmakers had said it was Paterson who refused to work out a deal.
"He did not reach out to us in advance" of releasing the new proposal, said Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Silver.