Building, Cautiously, Toward a More Open Senate

ALBANY—The State Senate is now debating two resolutions reforming the chamber rules and creating a commission to look at doing more along those lines. Here are some details coming from the floor debate and from Austin Shafran, Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's spokesman:

– There will be a nine-member commission to examine rules, reporting its findings in 90 days. State Senators David Valesky and John Bonacic, a Republican and a Democrat, will serve as co-chairs. There will be a total of six Democrats and three Republicans (Smith said on the floor the others will be Dean Skelos and Tom Libous) on the committee. It will meet publicly. This runs contrary to initial assumptions.

– Whatever recommendations from that committee are adopted will expire at the end of 2009.

– Immediately, senators will be able to use a motion to discharge to bills from committees and bring them to the floor. Those motions will be fully debated.

– The canvass of agreement will be repealed, meaning votes to discharge bills from committees and that pertain to amendments on the floor will be recorded.

– Any senator will be able to co-sponsor any bill without the permission of the prime sponsor. Currently, the sponsor's permission is required.

– When appropriate, bills will more easily be referred to multiple committees.

– There will be an increased use of the internet and other media to increase transparency, which Smith mentioned when he ascended to the majority leader post.

Smith acknowledged on the chamber floor that "this is a first step" and that "this is not a final day for rules reform." The Brennan Center for Justice this morning sent senators a memo calling them "small" first steps.

UPDATE: The resolutions passed.

UPDATE 2: At a press conference discussing the changes, Smith said that the new committee's membership was not yet firmly set beyond Bonacic and Valesky.