The Nassau County Legislature’s Rules Committee unanimously approved a law Monday that would ban certain felons from holding county office.
The full 19-member Legislature will vote May 22 on the bill Republicans introduced last week, which would bar from public office those convicted of any of eight felonies: bribery, embezzlement of public money, extortion, theft, perjury, fraud, tax evasion or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes.
Elected officials automatically lose their seats under state law when convicted of a felony, but they can seek a court waiver to run for office again after serving their sentences.
“This simply closes a loophole and furthers the public policy,” Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said.
The three Democrats on the seven-member Rules Committee voted for the bill after arguing that it did nothing to prevent corruption before it happens, a point Republicans conceded.
They called on Republicans to vote on their bill creating an independent inspector general’s office to oversee the county contract system, from which several corruption scandals have emerged in recent years.
“It’s really just a no-brainer from that standpoint, but more importantly I would love to be able to have a greater and larger debate that talks about how we root out the possibilities and potential for public corruption,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said.
But GOP lawmakers argued that Democrats’ long-stalled inspector general proposal would only create an unelected office that could be easily abused.
As Democrats would have it, the inspector general would be appointed to a six-year term by a committee and could only be removed by a supermajority vote of the Legislature. County Attorney Carnell Foskey, a Republican, advised lawmakers in December 2016 that the proposal would violate the U.S. Constitution and state law.
“This individual with all this power is held accountable to no one,” Nicolello said. “This is a description of absolute corruption.”
The debate came as Republicans, in an election year, take a tougher stance against corruption following the indictment last fall of Edward Mangano, the GOP county executive, on federal corruption charges including conspiracy to commit bribery.
Republican officials have previously argued that the county’s commissioner of investigations, who is appointed by the county executive, has essentially the same powers the inspector general would have.
Mangano has refused to step down but has not said whether he will seek re-election. Republicans have picked former state Sen. Jack Martins to replace him.
Democrats are making Republican corruption a major campaign issue as they seek to retake the county government
Nicolello on Monday accused Democratic legislators of political posturing and ignoring corruption on their side of the aisle, pointing to the 2015 conviction of former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and a guilty plea by county Legislator David Denenberg.
But Abrahams said the Democrats have raised the issue consistently since Dean Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader, was indicted the same year on corruption charges related to a Nassau contract.