Capitol Watch: Legislative Pay Hike, Trump Pardon Loophole
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, legislators will soon learn whether they will get their first raise in two decades.
A commission created to study a possible pay increase for the Senate and Assembly is due to make its decision by Dec. 10. Lawmakers now make $79,500.
Meanwhile, Attorney General-elect Letitia James is joining the push to close a loophole in state law that could inadvertently hurt the state's ability to bring state charges against anyone pardoned for similar federal charge by the president. The loophole is seen as a potential problem if the state seeks to file charges related to ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump and his associates.
Here's a look at stories making news:
LEGISLATIVE PAY HIKE?
New York lawmakers now make the third-highest state legislative salary in the nation, but many argue their current pay hasn't kept up with the cost of living and doesn't reflect their many obligations outside of the six-month legislative session.
But raising their pay has proven politically dicey. Reluctant to vote to raise their own salaries, lawmakers have empowered appointed commissions to study the issue. The last such commission balked at a pay raise in 2016.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested that any pay increase should be accompanied by ethics reforms. The four-member commission has the authority to recommend such reforms. One idea with a significant support among Cuomo and good-government groups would limit the compensation lawmakers can earn from outside jobs. The current policy allowing lawmakers to moonlight as they see fit has been seen as a conduit for payoffs from businesses and groups with business before the state.
"I support a pay increase and I support a ban on outside income," Cuomo said on New York City public radio last week. "It's not really part-time job anymore, being in the legislature. And the outside income causes significant issues as we know."
The commission is made up of New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall (also a former state comptroller) and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.
PARDON PROBLEM: James, who will be sworn in as the state's top law enforcement officer in January, is joining the list of those pushing to fix the so-called "double-jeopardy loophole" that could undermine the state's ability to prosecute anyone pardoned by the president.
Trump's critics have long looked to New York's attorney general as a backup if Trump were to pardon any associates convicted of federal crimes, since the president doesn't have the power to pardon people for state crimes. But there's a wrinkle in the state's double jeopardy law, which protects people from repeat prosecutions for the same allegations. The law includes several exceptions, but not one specifically allowing a state prosecution when a president has issued a pardon for similar federal charges.
That means anyone pardoned by the president and facing charges in New York could argue that without a specific exception to double jeopardy, the charges can't stick.
Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged lawmakers to close the loophole shortly before he resigned in the face of allegations that he assaulted former girlfriends. His successor, current Attorney General Barbara Underwood then took up the cause. Democrat lawmakers introduced legislation, but the bills didn't pass
Prospects for closing the loophole will likely improve in January, when Democrats take control of the state Senate from Republicans. Democrats already control the Assembly.
"Given this federal administration's efforts to thwart our basic judicial processes — dangling pardons and attacking prosecutors — and recent developments regarding individuals close to this administration, it is time that we close the double jeopardy loophole," James said in a statement. "I am committed to working with leaders across the state to make this a reality because this loophole cannot be seen as a means to circumvent our justice system. No one is above the law, period."