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Kearns: Ban Secret Settlements

Two weeks ago my daughter received her summer reading list for entrance into high school. On the list was the book To Kill A Mockingbird by Nelle Harper Lee, one of my favorite books, which I went out and purchased in order to read it with her. One of my favorite lines is, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.” It has special meaning and application today with the Vito Lopez sanction and expulsion vote coming before the New York State Assembly.

The Constitution of the United States provides for Equal Protection, but also in a sense makes sure that there is equal application of the law as well. So it is surprising that a Senate sponsor cannot be found for “sunshine legislation” that will halt the insidious process of keeping the actions of nefarious leaders and private actors concealed and allow them to continue their actions without consequence or liability despite culpability, because they are privileged with money or status. There are many words being written and said in outrage concerning this issue, but words or rhetoric are always plentiful and deeds are precious few. I filed a bill with the Assembly patterned after a Texas sunshine or disclosure statute passed and signed into law in 1990. I filed my bill three months ago and it has not been moved from committee. I am also hoping for a Senate sponsor.

Sunshine or disclosure legislation occurred as a response to numerous cases which involved stipulated settlements requiring silence or gag orders as a condition of the agreed upon pay out. Secrecy and gag orders harmfully impacting the broader public has a long history in the private sector, the health care sector, the clergy, college sports and judging by the JCOPE report the public sector.

The law forbidding or prohibiting secret settlements should apply to all sectors of society. Assembly-member Vito Lopez’s alleged staff member molestations and the subsequent settlements outside the scrutiny of the New York State Assembly, underscore the need for sunshine legislation to prevent the potential for further future abuses and harm to the public and all women in the present and future. I love my daughter very dearly and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect her from predators whether they are sexual or criminal.

New York State needs a law that will directly address and prohibit settlements by not only public bodies, public agencies and public organizations, but the private sector, which is not immune from being opportunistic and exploitive in many instances. I am asking that the People of the State of New York support a bill, A.3557, I have filed in the Assembly, which prohibits secret settlements not only by private parties and public bodies with the use of public or private funds, but also creates a presumption of openness which can be overcome after the prongs of a multiple part test are met.

I hope that my colleagues and their constituents agree and support me in an effort to have this bill signed into a law in New York State, not only for the sake of my child, but for all citizens in this state who need this law applied equally.

> Michael P. Kearns, Assemblyman 142nd District

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