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Cuomo says special session stalled over ethics reform

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo tamped down hopes for a special session of the legislature before the year ends, saying legislative leaders have still not agreed to ethics reforms that the governor is seeking. Cuomo says he also wants more time to develop a comprehensive criminal justice reform package.

Cuomo says talks on a potential special December session of the legislature center on a package of ethics reforms that the governor is seeking, including campaign finance reform and public financing of campaigns and greater disclosure of legislators' outside incomes. He says lawmakers want something else.

“I’m interested in pursuing those items, the legislature is interested in raising their pay,” said Cuomo, who admits the 15 years without any salary increases in the legislative and executive branches have turned the pay scale in his agencies upside down, with deputy commissioners making more money than their bosses working as commissioners.

But he says talks have not progressed very far. Cuomo says legislative leaders agreed to some ethics reforms earlier this year, and are reluctant to go further.

“Their position is we just did this, and we are not doing anything more,” Cuomo said. “I’m saying I want more, and they’re saying they’re not prepared for more, and that’s sort of where we are.”

Cuomo says reforms to the criminal justice system in the wake of the death of Eric Garner after an encounter with police, and other incidents, are likely too complicated to be addressed in a session that would have to be held before the holidays. He says he intends to introduce proposals after the first of the year.

Some have called for a special prosecutor in cases where an unarmed citizen dies after an incident with police. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked Cuomo to issue an executive order granting him those powers, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons says Cuomo told him he’ll authorize special prosecutors in the future.

A Cuomo spokeswoman said only that the governor had talked with a number of interested parties, including Simmons. The governor portrayed any decision to appoint a special prosecutor for such cases as complicated.  

“Often you tend to have a knee jerk after something like this,” Cuomo said. “It is more complex. We should talk it through, think it through.”

Cuomo, who rushed through a gun control law three weeks after the Newtown, Conn. shootings two years ago, says he wants to have a public debate about all of the options for improving a justice system that he says many perceive as unfair.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.