Presented August 31st, 2016
The New York State Legislature has earned the reputation as the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation. At the root of Albany’s problem is that New York taxpayers are at the mercy of one of the most anti-democratic legislatures in the nation, placing massive amounts of power in the hands of a few. This concentration of power has been coined the “3 men in a room” culture, describing the fact that the Governor and two leaders of the Senate and Assembly make all the major decision behind closed doors.
The following proposed reforms I believe will restore democracy, transparency, accountability and most importantly, public trust, back into the New York State Legislature. If elected to the Senate, I will fight for passage of each and every provision.
Candidate, New York State Senate
1. TERM LIMITS
Over the last 20 years, no less than 20 members of the New York State Legislature have been convicted of corruption. One common element of nearly each one of these corrupt politicians is they were in office a very long time.
Most recently, former Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos were convicted of corruption. Combined, these two men were in office for more than 70 years.
Reform Proposal: Limit the term of Members of the Assembly and Senate to no more than 10 years and no more than eight (8) years for Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General.
2. COMMITTEE REFORM
“In many state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress, committees function as the locus of legislative activity. In New York, they do not. The Speaker of the Assembly and Senate Majority Leader maintain complete control over the committee process, rendering committees unable to fulfill a primary legislative purpose.” (Brennan Center for Justice: Still Broken, New York State Legislative Reform, 2008)
Reform Proposals: Truly empower committee’s and sub committee’s to provide their critical legislative function.
• All bills reported to the floor in both chambers must have a substantive committee report attached showing the committee’s work on the bill
• Bills should be required to have fiscal notes, assessing fiscal impact
• Each committee and subcommittee should submit an annual report describing the work of the committee
• All attendance records, meeting agendas, committee votes and minutes should be easily accessible by the public on the state’s website
• Chairing a committee should be an honor, not a pay raise; the practice of giving stipends for leadership should end – taxpayers are paying nearly $3 million annually in these stipends
“..the barriers to getting a bill from the committee to consideration before the full chamber are greater than any other state.” Brennan Center for Justice: 2004 Report
• Empower all legislators with the ability to move bills without the consent of leadership
• Bills may be discharged from committee and placed on the calendar by a motion approved by a simple majority of the members on the floor
• Prohibit committees from requesting bills outside their jurisdiction
• Members should have the right to have bills drafted within a reasonable period of time
• Equal distribution of resources to all legislators, irrespective of party or seniority
The New York State Constitution requires that legislators have the opportunity to read and consider a bill for at least three days before voting on its final passage. If, however, the Governor certifies in a “message of necessity” requested by the Speaker or Majority Leader that a bill must be voted on immediately, those leaders can pass the bill without allowing the legislators themselves or the public any meaningful opportunity to review it.
The “message of necessity” provision was created to enable the quick passage of legislation during a dire/emergency situation, it now is rarely used for that purpose but instead to “ram” a bill through quickly and deprive rank-and-file members the ability to review the bill’s provisions or merit.
• Adopt a formal rule stating that no message of necessity will be approved by the Governor unless (a) at least two-thirds of the members have voted to request that message, and (b) the governor has personally reviewed and signed each message as intended by the New York State Constitution.
5. ESTABLISH AN INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE
Members of the U.S. Congress have the Congressional Budget Office to provide them objective budget information. A majority of state legislatures have something similar, but New York State does not.
Proposal: An Independent budget office would guarantee that legislators in New York are given the truthful and accurate fiscal impacts of proposed legislation, enabling them to make better decisions. Legislators would not have to worry that facts are being skewed to one point-of-view.
6. GREATER TRANSPARENCY OF LEGISLATORS’ PERFORMANCE
New York legislators propose more bills than any other state legislature in the nation, almost twice as many as the next closest state of New Jersey. Yet, New York passes a smaller percentage of laws than any other state.
It appears that the offering of legislation by legislators has become more of a “press opportunity” than a true effort to achieve anything. Most citizens are not aware of how effective their state senator and assembly member is in their job, if they are actually doing anything or just offering bills that go nowhere.
Proposal: Legislator Report Card
Create an easy to find and understand report card of each legislator’s record for that session of the legislature. This will hold legislators accountable for results.
7. FOR TRUE REFORM BOTH HOUSES MUST WORK TOGETHER
Much like international arms negotiations to achieve disarmament both sides must decrease at an equal amount to achieve a pact. In a similar fashion, we will not see such reforms as term limits and the decrease in the concentration of power within leadership unless both houses agree in unison.
Proposed Reform: Create a “Reform Caucus”
Establish a bi-partisan/bi-cameral caucus made up of reform-minded members of the assembly and senate to come up with agreed-upon reforms and work to pass them in their respective legislative chambers.