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Business, Advocacy and Citizen Groups Across the State Demand Rules Reform In Albany

November 22, 2004

For Immediate Release
Monday, November 22, 2004

Contact Information:
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736

Business, Advocacy and Citizen Groups Across the State Demand Rules Reform in Albany
Groups call for reform before Januarys session commences

New York, NY – Today, concerned citizens, business associations and advocacy organizations held coordinated press conferences across the State to urge the leadership in the Senate and Assembly to adopt comprehensive rules reforms on or before the first day the legislative session in January. In Albany, various organizations came together to announce the release of a letter being sent to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Joseph Bruno calling for such reforms. This press conference was one of five simultaneous statewide conferences that were held in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.

In the letter released today, over 50 organizations from across the State called on the leaders of the two chambers to adopt rules reforms that would, at a minimum:

  • Give each committee chairperson the power to hire and fire the committees staff;

  • Require public hearings on legislation or agencies if one-fourth of the committee demands such a hearing, and require committee reports on all bills reported to the floor;

  • End the practice of proxy voting in committees in the Senate and require attendance at all committee meetings;

  • Enable committee members to obtain a vote on their bills from the chairperson, and enable the sponsor to move to discharge a bill from a committees consideration, more easily and more quickly;

  • Record and place transcripts of all committee meetings and hearings on the chambers websites to allow the public to hold their representatives accountable;

  • Require, in both chambers, that the Rules Committees comply with all present requirements on standing committees;

  • Require that all bills reported favorably out of committee must be considered and voted upon by the full chamber within sixty days, or before the end of the session, whichever is earlier;

  • Require that two-thirds of the elected members of a chamber vote to use a message of necessity before one can be used, in order to prevent legislators from voting on bills without fully considering them;

  • End the practice of empty-seat voting;

  • Require that conference committees be convened upon the request of the bills sponsors in each chamber to resolve differences between the Assembly and Senate and produce a final bill that everyone can live with; and

  • Prevent the reduction of individual members allocations for office staff and supplies.

Reform is an issue whose time has certainly come. It has been on the lips of every candidate and elected official during the election period, said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director of the New York State League of Women Voters. Now is the time to turn that rhetoric into reality.

In the state Capitol, these days, the air is thick with talk of reform and recommendations for fixing the dysfunctional legislative process, says Mark Alesse of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The chief responsibility for the dysfunction in state government today lies squarely with the men who direct it with unquestioned authority, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader and the Governor. They havent conspired to create the most dysfunctional legislative process in the United States of America, they just let it happen on their watch, and they are the ones that must fix it.

“The New York State Legislature is still behind the Iron Curtain, a place where there is strict one party rule in each house, all the important decisions are made by a few powerful individuals behind closed doors and public debate is a charade,” said Richard Kirsch, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “It’s time that the Berlin Wall was torn down in Albany so that rank and file legislators and the public can reclaim our democracy.”

For additional information about efforts to reform Albany, please visit Reforming the NYS Legislature.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, founded in 1995, unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy. Its mission is to develop and implement an innovative, nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.
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