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Brennan Center Updates Landmark Legislative Study

October 11, 2006

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Contact Information:
Fran Lalas, Brennan Center for Justice, (212) 998–6746

Brennan Center Updates Landmark Legislative Study
Despite changes, legislative process “still broken,” study finds

NEW YORK, NY – Two years after its landmark report on the New York State Legislature, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law has concluded that the legislative process is still broken and remains in need of reform. In a new report, Unfinished Business: New York State Legislative Reform 2006 Update, the Brennan Center concludes that rank and file members of the state legislature, as well as the general public, are left out of the legislative process leaving all New Yorkers underserved.

In 2004, the first Brennan Center report helped spur a wave of focus on Albany reform. Both houses of the legislature responded by making changes to their operating rules and promising that more would come. In Unfinished Business, the Brennan Center assesses the current legislative process, discovers some minor changes were made, but finds the process still plagued with endemic problems.

The legislature has taken positive steps towards reform, said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice. But Albany still fails to meet the most basic tests of accountability and effectiveness. Over the coming months we are nearing a reform moment, when real change is possible. That change will be far easier if it begins with continued change in the way the legislature works.

The Brennan Center report concludes that the vast majority of the problems identified in the 2004 report remain deeply endemic in both chambers. Analysis of the legislatures performance shows:

  • * Few standing committee hearings devoted to a specific piece of major legislation;
  • * No detailed committee reports attached to major bills;
  • * Next to impossible for bills to reach the chamber floor for a vote without the approval of leadership;
  • * Neither house voted down a single bill on the floor;
  • * Little floor debate on major legislation; and
  • * Very few conference committees to resolve differences between bills passed by the Assembly and the Senate.
Unfinished Business makes four recommendations that are critical to reforming the legislative process:
  • * Strengthen the committee process by creating mechanisms for rank-and-file members to force hearings and votes on bills;
  • * End leadership control over bills getting the floor by creating a mechanism for rank-and-file members to force floor votes;
  • * Institutionalize conference committees; and
  • * Codify fair, objective criteria for allotting resources and staff to members and committees.
Earlier this week, the Brennan Center sent the report to the members of the states legislature and the leadership with an offer to work with them to implement changes necessary to create an efficient, effective legislature for the people of New York.

These four changes can impact everything New Yorkers care about, said Lawrence Norden, Counsel at the Brennan Center and author of Unfinished Business. In this report, the Brennan Center is not arguing which policies should be made, but rather for a fair process where the legislature can develop good policy and elected officials are held accountable.