Study Presents New York State Senate with First Test on Reform

January 5, 2009

For Immediate Release:
Contact:
Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318, susan.lehman@nyu.edu

coverAlbany, NY – In an update to reports released in 2004 and 2006, the Brennan Center's Still Broken: New York State Legislative Reform 2008 Update finds that the legislative process in Albany remains broken, and offers concrete recommendations for reform.

Although the report finds that the legislature continues to fall short in a number of measures of legislative transparency and robustness, there are good reasons to believe that in 2009, for the first time in a generation, the legislature may make significant positive changes to its operations. Senate Democrats have long pledged reform upon regaining control of the chamber; and the Assembly has moved in the direction of increased oversight, although there is opportunity to improve the process to ensure that oversight hearings are substantive and not perfunctory.

"While there isn't much to cheer about looking back in either chamber, there is the promise of substantial reform from the likely new incoming Senate majority. We hope at least one chamber will reform the rules needed to remake the legislature," says Andrew Stengel, report co-author and Director of National Election Advocacy at the Brennan Center.

"Whoever assumes the Senate leadership has the opportunity, the tools, and the public support to enact real reform in 2009," says Lawrence Norden, report co-author and Counsel at the Brennan Center. The report calls upon both chambers to implement the following reforms:

Strengthen standing committees by giving members authority to convene meetings and by requiring committee members to be present to vote.

End the leadership stranglehold on bills coming to the floor by allowing rank-and-file members to discharge bills from committee and place them on the floor calendar by majority vote.

Allow adequate opportunity for consideration of legislation by requiring adequate fiscal analysis and allowing ample time for full consideration of each bill on the floor before the close of session.

Provide sufficient opportunity and resources for full consideration of legislation by making use of robust conference committees and distributing member funds equally.

Make all records and products of the legislative process fully transparent and easily accessible to the public through the Internet.

Advocates hope that the legislative leadership will consider the report as a blueprint for meaningful reform. "We are looking forward to working with the new majority in the State Senate and the leaders of the Assembly, as well as our coalition partners, to make 2009 the year that retires the phrase ‘dysfunctional legislature' when speaking about New York," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

Public interest groups across the state echoed the Brennan Center's calls for reform. "The Brennan Center's latest report highlights the continuing need for greater accountability and transparency in New York's state Legislature," says Edmund McMahon, Director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy. "These recommendations would give New Yorkers a clearer view of what their elected representatives are up to. That's a goal we can all share."

"The 2009 legislative leadership should make one key resolution to all New Yorkers:  To make the New York State Legislature the most open and accountable in the nation," says Blair Horner, Legislative Director of New York Public Interest Research Group.

The Brennan Center has issued two previous reports on the state of New York's legislature, The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform released in 2004 and, the follow up, Unfinished Business: New York State Legislative Reform 2006 Update.

The full report is available on the Brennan Center's website, click here to read more.

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