For Immediate Release
Thursday, January 6, 2005
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736
Business, Advocacy and Citizen Groups Gather in Albany to Tell Legislators: Its a New Year, Its Time for New Rules!
Groups Urge Legislators to Vote for Comprehensive Rules Reform
Albany, NY – Today, concerned citizens, business associations and advocacy organizations gathered in Albany from across the State to urge the members of the Senate and Assembly to vote for comprehensive rules changes in this legislative session.
Those gathered called for 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.
For additional information about efforts to reform Albany, please visit Reforming the NYS Legislature.
STATEMENTS FROM SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS
Every legislator in Albany should make their first New Years resolution real rules reform, said Jeremy Creelan, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
New York’s state government has failed to solve recurring economic and social problems. It is a government whose dysfunction offers no protection for the economic ambitions of its citizens. No protection against crushing taxes and insurance costs; no protection against apocalyptic tort liabilities, crippling labor costs, or the oppressive drag of chronic budget deficits; and now we know that any progress toward improving the state’s economic condition and caring for the future will require major changes in the way the state legislature and government operates, said Mark Alesse, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
This is a historic moment and a rare opportunity…We challenge our legislators to rise above the political smog, and to demonstrate the courage, leadership, integrity, and political will to do what is right for the people of New York, said John Boroski, Founding Member of Citizens for New York Legislative Reform.
The Business Council of Westchester, representing over 1,300 business and professional organizations in Westchester County, believes that in order to achieve significant, positive change in the business environment in New York State, there must be reform of the legislative process. The time is clearly now to make a change. Therefore, the Business Council of Westchester supports reform measures that will help to create an open and more representative State Assembly and Senate, said Marsha Gordon, President/CEO, The Business Council of Westchester.
Our greatest concern is that we are seeing investment dollars walk away from New York State because of the high cost and difficulty of doing business here, a situation exacerbated by the rules by which our state legislators must operate. The Brennan Center roadmap represents the most achievable structural reform mechanism to improve the climate for business and investment here, particularly in the vast economic territory north and west of New York City, said Heidi N. Zimmer-Meyer, President, Rochester Downtown Development Corporation.
An open democratic process is absolutely essential for effective governance. New York will always fall short in its efforts to protect our natural resources and safeguard our citizen’s health when decisions are made behind closed doors, denying the public their right to observe the government’s actions. For these reasons, Environmental Advocates of New York supports the Brennan Center reform agenda including the recommendations to vest more responsibility in legislative committees, create real conference committees, and treat minority party members in both houses with more respect. Democracy is most effective when the needs of the public take precedence over the political ambitions of the few, and the Brennan Center’s proposal reflects reforms that are consistent with that idea, said Robert Moore, Executive Director, Environmental Advocates of New York.
We are proud to join these diverse groups and citizens calling for change in Albany today and hope our message is heard loud and clear. The rules of the game matter and New Yorkers deserve more openness and accountability from their lawmakers and the government process, said Rachel Leon, Executive Director of Common Cause New York.
After working to reform Albany for many years, we are optimistic that pressure from todays coalition and the public at large will convince our legislators that it is in their best interest to begin implementing change now, said Joy Rosenzweig, President of League of Women Voters of Westchester.
Both houses of the Legislature have a golden opportunity to fundamentally change the way they operate to make the legislative process more open and accountable. They should not miss this opportunity, said Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group.
The dysfunctional nature of the legislature, which concentrates power in the hands of a few people, invariably leads to the disenfranchisement of poor people who are unable to affordthe campaign contributions needed to buy access, said Mark Dunlea, Associate Director, Hunger Action Network of New York State. Until we enact democratic principles in the State Legislature, itwill never be able to enact real solutions to complex problems like health care and job creation.
It is time to unlock democracy and give true meaning to the phrase We The People in the New York State legislature, says Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, Director of Unlock The Block: Release The Vote campaign.
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.
Business and Professional Women of New York State Federation, as a statewide non-partisan organization,is committed to pursuing the reforms listed in the Brennan Center Report on the dysfunctional New York State Legislature. It is in everyone’s best interest that every state legislator, regardless of their partyaffiliation, reassume their role as a representative of the people of the state of New York by adopting the rule changes made in that report, said Janice L. Moritz, Legislative Chair of the Business and Professional Women of New York State.
It is essential that our state legislators enact a strong package of rules reform measures headed into the legislative session. These measures are the first step on a path towards true reform in Albany. Their action or inaction on these measures will be watched closely by the voters, said Doug Israel, Advocacy Director, Citizens Union.
Reform is so important in the light of New Yorks economic situation. Legislative reform is the first step toward eliminating the roadblocks to economic success that have plagued New York for too many years. We urge our legislators to adopt real reform of the legislative rules now, said Randy Wolken, President, Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY).
Businesses in New York State face increasing pressures. On-time budgets and a change in spending philosophies by our state representatives are imperative if we hope to stop the flow of job losses and corporate downsizing in our communities. To hold our representatives fully accountable, it is critical that we make our legislature more transparent and encourage a fuller debate on these issues, said Colleen C. DiPirro, President/CEO, Amherst Chamber of Commerce.
It is time that our legislators stopped behaving as if they lived in an alternate universe. These proposed rules reforms are in fact modest. Only those invested in the way Albany does business would find them extreme, said Michael McKee, Associate Director, New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.
“Womens City Club asks legislators to vote for real representative democracy, including rules that encourage open debate and public involvement in the legislative process, as well as ending gridlock and empty-seat voting. New Yorkers deserve a more efficient legislature, said Marjorie Kelleher Shea, Chair of the Women’s City Club Task Force on Election Reform.
The League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara enthusiastically joins the more than 60 organizations demanding immediate and effective rules reforms in our legislature, said Nuala Drescher, Action Chair, The League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara.
This largecoalition of peoplefrom all over New York rallying in thefirst week of Januarydemonstrates how widespread the passions are to reform the legislative process andthe importance of making it happen in2005, said Michael Benjamin, Chairman, SaveNewYork.org.
Public debate over the significant issues confronting New York State is being stifled by current rules. We support rules reform as a means to engage the citizens of the state in the important work of government, said Chris Gill, Center for Governmental Research.
This may not appear to be something of concern to the faith community, but at its essence, we cannot achieve a democratic and fair government if the legislative process itself is fundamentally flawed. said Neil Jaschik, President of the Interfaith Alliance of Rochester. Without rules reform, the New York Legislature will continue to cheat its citizens.
The Brennan Center Reforms embody our core belief in citizen participation and strong representation in government – we urge members of the Assembly and Senate to enact sweeping rules reform as their first order of business, said Edward A. Hartzog, Political Director, New Democratic Majority.
Democracy enables people to thrive more any other form of government. While the citizens of New York enjoy the fruits of democracy at the federal and local levels of government, they reap the ill-effects of dysfunctional oligarchy at the state level. Implementation of the 17 Brennan Rule Reforms in the NYS Senate and Assembly would make the NYS government far more democratic. Implementation of the reforms would enable elected officials to solve a myriad of state challenges, which in turn would cause the economy boom and provide the economic base for New York citizens to thrive, said Mark Bitz, FreeNYS.org.
The Albany legislature needs to be fixed so that it truly represents the democratic will of the people of the State of New York. I support endorse and support the Brennan Center for Justice Reforms, said Reginald H. Bowman, New Leadership Democratic Club.
The League of Women Voters of New York City is committed to restoring the democratic process in Albany, said Robin Bahr, Co-Chair of the Legislative Action Committee, of the League of Women Voters for New York City. Reform of the legislative rules as proposed by Assemblyman Scott Stringer is a crucial first step in thateffort.
The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce urges our legislators and leaders to bring accountability and efficiency to Albany so that our representatives can actually do they job they were elected to do. Opening up the process should open the door to reforms that bring growth to Upstate rather than handouts to a handful of special interest groups, said David Cordeau, President of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce.
Democracy for NYC is a local group of Howard Dean’s new organization, Democracy for America. Along with other Dean-inspired groups in New York State, we are educating our members about the reform movement in New York State and encouraging them to contact their state legislators, said Tracey Denton of Democracy for New York City.
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.
Please visit www.brennancenter.org.