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JCOPE two years later
ALBANY -- It was two years ago this week that the state's ethics committee was born. Today they get a passing grade by one of the state's closest watchers of government.
For the first year the Joint Commission On Public Ethics flew under the radar. It wasn't until the fall of 2012 that the body made headlines when it was suspected then Assemblyman Vito Lopez was under investigation. JCOPE was pressed from the media almost daily about Lopez, who initiated the investigation, and when it would be complete.
There was no answer, and there didn't have to be.
Under the body's bylaws JCOPE is not bound to release the details of a report; who initiated it, who voted which way, or who was questioned. They only have to release their findings. In fact JCOPE is not even bound by the freedom of information law that many members of the press use daily to obtain information from public agencies.
"In my opinion that is a flaw in the statute itself," said Bob Freeman of the Committee on Open Government.
The rules of JCOPE were put together by it's founders, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders.
Given the fact the commission is protected by it's bylaws one of the state's closet government watch groups gives them a passing grade so far.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, NYPIRG, gives JCOPE a "C " for the first two years of their watch.
"For the first time you have an outside agency powered to conduct investigations that is part of state government," said Russ Haven of NYPIRG. "I think that is very very helpful. There is a watchdog effect from that."
Haven says the mere presence of JCOPE has many state lawmakers "walking on egg shells".
Haven said NYPIRG pushed for JCOPE to reassess themselves after a few years and see what they can do internally to make corrections or adjustments to better themselves.
Any changes to JCOPE would have to be made by the state legislature and approved by the Governor.