Silver: Albany, Dysfunctional?

ALBANY—Sheldon Silver is displeased with a report today which said New York’s legislature is “still broken.”

While most of the Brennan Center’s rhetoric was focused on the possibility of change in the State Senate, Dan Weiller, a spokesman for the assembly speaker, issued this statement in response:

The latest report by the Brennan Center is disappointing because it continues to misrepresent the substantive reforms that have been made in the Assembly, misunderstand the basics of the legislative process, and mislead the public as to what measures will actually lead to the formulation of better budgets and laws for all New Yorkers.
            In analyzing the work of the legislature, the Brennan Center report completely omits the state budget, as well as countless bills that pass either house every year.
            The Assembly has been and will remain committed to transparency and efficiency in state government. The rules changes we have adopted in recent years have improved the budget process, given greater authority to standing committees and increased participation by all members. Since enacting budget and committee reforms, the Assembly has passed three on-time budgets in a row. This year, these reforms will help New York tackle its greatest fiscal crisis in a generation. We are committed to ensuring that the Assembly continues to take the lead in reforming state government to better serve all New Yorkers.
            Among the other important reforms the Assembly has adopted over the years to create greater transparency include the passage of rules that:
·        End empty seat voting to ensure that Assembly members fully participate in the legislative process and are publicly accountable for their votes.

  • Create an open and transparent budget process through joint Assembly – Senate conference committees that analyze and hear public testimony on every aspect of the state's fiscal plan.
  • Mandate that all Assembly bills are approved by a standing committee other than the Committee on Rules, guaranteeing the participation of committees in the legislative process.
  • Extend the time period for unlimited bill introduction from early March to the first Tuesday in May, allowing Assembly members more time to draft and submit legislation important to their constituents.
  • Require the Committee on Rules to approve the acceptance of Messages of Necessity resulting in a decrease in the use of such messages.
  • Ease the Motion to Discharge process by extending the period during which this process may be utilized.
  • Create subcommittee structure to provide members with a greater role in researching, analyzing and debating legislative issues.
  • Limit the number of standing committees on which a member can serve to no greater than six in order to ensure efficiency and greater participation by members.
  • Require that each standing committee meet at least once a month in order to hasten consideration of bills.
  • Create sanctions for members with unexcused absences from regular meetings where bills are considered in order to guarantee members participate fully.
    The Brennan Center's report is wrong to dismiss and not include in its analysis bills that have been vetoed as well as the Assembly's passage of major legislation that is not subsequently taken up by the Senate – bills that often set the stage for eventual enactment of critical legislation to protect New Yorkers. Before it was passed in the Senate and signed into law by the governor, for many years the Assembly passed a one-house measure to prevent hate crimes in New York State. The same is true for such landmark legislation as Timothy's Law, SONDA, providing orders of protection for victims of domestic violence and CFE. It was the Assembly's continued insistence on passing these critical bills that led to them becoming law.

            In June 2007, the Assembly passed legislation to ensure marriage equality in New York state – a vote that received support on both sides of the aisle. At the end of the last legislative session, the Assembly also passed legislation on the very issue for which the Brennan Center is a registered lobbyist – Campaign Finance Reform. Until now, the Senate has not acted on this legislation, but it is our hope and belief that these bills will find support in the new Senate and eventually be enacted into law. That is the legislative process and it is mystifying that the Brennan Center would diminish it.