New Senate Will Meet for Rules Reform Today

ALBANY—State Senator Liz Krueger will head the interim committee on reforming the Senate rules, a source close to the process

ALBANY—State Senator Liz Krueger will head the interim committee on reforming the Senate rules, a source close to the process said.

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The State Senate is scheduled to convene this afternoon with the intention to enact new rules that might fix some of the most egregious problems in how the chamber operates.

"The first step comes today, and additional steps will be taken in the coming months," State Senator David Valesky just said on WGDJ Talk 1300. Krueger issued a press release Friday to describe the initial salvo of reform. Here are the highlights:

— Ending the use of "canvass of agreement" where individual votes of members are not recorded. This will change the current system of when amendments to bills are brought to the floor there are no recorded votes, and that rules for debate and procedure will be the same as for legislation.  Currently there are restrictive limits on the debate of amendments and votes are only held through a canvass of agreement which does not require a recorded "yes" or "no" vote from every Senator.

 — Motions to discharge will also require recorded votes, and allow for debate times and procedures parallel to those used for all other bills. A motion to discharge comes when a bill has not been allowed to be voted on in committee and the sponsor attempts to bring it straight to the floor for a vote by the full Senate in order for it to be placed on the calendar in the absence of a committee vote to do so.  Procedures will also be changed to allow motions to discharge 20 days after a request has for consideration in committee has been made.  Until this change, bills had to be in committee for 60 days before a motion for release from committee was allowed, which substantially limited the number of motions that could be considered during any session.

 — The Senate will have open bill sponsorship, which allows for any Senator to co-sponsor any bill of their choice.  Prior to this change, a Senator had to ask the prime sponsor of a bill if they could sign on as a co-sponsor.  With open bill sponsorship they will not need the prime sponsor's permission.  Under the old system the majority party would rarely let a minority member sign-on to any bill that they planned on passing.

— There will be a system of dual reference for bills that impose criminal or civil penalties as is already done in the Assembly.  This means that any bill which creates criminal or civil penalties must be passed through the Codes Committee as well as whichever other committee the bill would have normally been passed through.

Reformers from the Brennan Center have hoped that the new Democratic majority will open up the way the State Senate does business. In an Op / Ed in today's Albany Times Union, Lawrence Norden and Andrew Stengel wrote: "There is nothing wrong with these changes, but they fall far short of the kind of comprehensive reform the Senate needs if it is to become the deliberative, open, representative, accountable body that the Senate Democrats promised before the November elections."

The bi-partisan committee will look at additional changes, and will meet over the coming months. Any changes it enacts will expire at the end of 2009.

New Senate Will Meet for Rules Reform Today