An article by the Times Union is disclosing that registered lobbyists in New York will soon be required to take a mandated online ethics training course that will be given under the auspices of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. While the training requirement was already presented in detail in the 2011 law that created JCOPE, which oversees lobbying and government ethics in the state, it has not yet been prepared for implementation. At recent meetings, JCOPE commissioners have been informed that the training is being developed and is expected to be completed shortly.
The training, which would be applicable to the thousands of New Yorkers who are officially registered as lobbyists, was cautiously accepted by Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the state League of Women Voters. “It will be interesting for those of us who have wanted authentic lobbying reform to see how deep they will go,” remarked Bartoletti, who is a registered lobbyist herself. “On the face of it, it would appear that any amount of ethics training in the State of New York is a good thing.”
Precedent has shown that mass training programs can have drawbacks. JCOPE’s predecessor agency, the Commission on Public Integrity, received widespread disapproval in 2009 when the Times Union reported that not even one single individual who had taken online ethics training for state employees had failed the final examination. In fact, all of the test scores were upgraded after a computer glitch originally gave a failing grade to everyone who had earned a less-than-perfect score.
Only a relatively small number of people took that test (specifically, 109 of the 136,500 state workers took part) and the exam was not actually mandatory. However, the 2011 law that created JCOPE has mandated ethics training for state agency, executive and legislative employees. The language requiring lobbyist training had no deadline for implementation.
A separate deadline, urging the governor and legislative leaders to select a panel to review JCOPE’s work thus far, has already passed with no apparent action having been taken. The legislation creating JCOPE stated that the elected officials should appoint an eight-member review panel to “study, review and evaluate” the commission’s performance. The review panel was supposed to have been selected by June 1, and is supposed to issue a report in 2015.