The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform

July 21, 2004

This landmark study concludes that New York's legislative bodies discourage rank-and-file lawmakers from full participation in the legislative process, thus depriving citizens of full representation in Albany.

New York State’s legislative process is broken. This report documents five key weaknesses and compares New York’s process with those in other state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. Together, the problems identified here deprive New Yorkers of the government they deserve. Indeed, New York’s legislative process limits legislators’ consideration of legislation—whether counted in hearings, debate,amendments,readings,conference committees,or even simply legislators’ presence when they vote—far more than any other legislature. Neither the U.S. Congress nor any other state legislature so systematically limits the roles played by rank-and-file legislators and members of the public in the legislative process.

Fortunately, many of the shortcomings of the current system can be remedied without new legislation or constitutional amendments. Mere changes in the rules of the Senate and Assembly would make a significant difference. For this reason, these reforms need not become the victim of the very legislative dysfunction they seek to repair.

This report identifies rules changes in five areas that together would make the New York State Legislature more representative, more deliberative, more acces- sible and accountable to the public, and more efficient. These proposed changes are organized here in the order of the legislative process itself—from a bill’s introduction and consideration by a committee, to its passage by the full Senate or Assembly, to the final reconciliation of the two chambers’ separate bills into a single bill for final passage.

Each chamber of the Legislature has complete control over whether or not to adopt these changes independent of each other and of the Governor. In January 2005,they will vote on the rules that govern their respective operations. Members of the Senate and Assembly who care about meaningful democracy in New York should seize that opportunity to adopt the changes recommended here.New York State’s voters should urge their representatives in Albany to reform the system now.

Download report (PDF)