Assemblyman Mark Johns (R,C-Webster) this week introduced legislation, the Sensible Opportunity for Legislative Equality (SOLE) Act (A.9548), which would give each Assembly Member and State Senator the right to choose one piece of legislation of statewide significance during their two-year term to be sent to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
At a press conference held in Albany, Johns explained that the SOLE Act allows legislators, who represent the interests of their constituencies, the opportunity to enact real reform without interference from powerful special interest groups in Albany that have ample opportunity to interfere and sabotage altruistic government efforts and reforms.
“The people of New York State have said it over and over again – ‘Albany is broken’ – and I’m making every effort to fix it. My SOLE Act is the first of many steps needed to diminish the power of special interests and boost the voice of everyday New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Mark Johns (R,C-Webster), member of the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee. “Bold ideas are needed to put our great state back on track and put the taxpayers first. This bill would remove crucial reform measures from legislative deadlock and into the light of day so that they can be voted on by the full State Legislature.”
The SOLE Act’s basic tenets are supported by several good-government groups, including NYPIRG, Common Cause/NY and the Brennan Center for Justice, which has touted similar reform measures for several years.
"By definition, a participatory democracy demands participation. This is common sense legislation which will increase participation and promote the common discourse as opposed to a selective process," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
"In Albany, if you're not a member of the party that controls your house in the Legislature, your bills typically don't get to the floor of the Legislature for a vote," said NYPIRG Legislative Counsel Russ Haven. "That hurts democracy and means that good ideas may never see the light of day. Assemblyman Johns' legislation would help open up Albany by allowing bills to get to the floor for a vote regardless of whether they are sponsored by minority party members or are opposed by leadership."
Johns says this piece of legislation is bipartisan and ignores regional biases by focusing on improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers. Johns also was joined by several seasoned legislative reformers as sponsors and supporters of his new bill.
“I think this measure is well intended to reform the way Albany operates,” said Assemblyman Bill Reilich (R,C,I-Greece). “Currently, the rules that govern passage of most legislation through the state Assembly are restrictive and less generous, with regard to what bills can pass through a committee and what bills can be debated. By the same token, however, these rules are what protect us from potentially harmful legislation. I support this bill because it contains good ideas. It would give legislators from all regions of the state a chance to bring an idea forward and have it vetted through the legislative process without it being stifled in committee.”
“This is the simplest and potentially most effective reform measure that has been introduced in years,” said Assemblyman Sean T. Hanna (R,C,I-Mendon). “Who could possibly oppose it?”
“What could be a better reflection of the people’s agenda than enabling each of the 212 New York State legislators to bring at least one substantive bill up for a vote out of the more than 14,000 bills that are introduced each year? In a representative democracy, every state legislator should be empowered to be a leader in their own district and bring forward a measure that is near and dear to the hearts of the people they represent,” said Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Schenectady-Saratoga).
"Too often, important bills authored by minority members fall by the wayside because the legislative calendar is strictly determined by the majority party," said Assemblyman Will Barclay (R,C,I-Pulaski). "This legislation we're talking about today would give good ideas a chance to be heard and, ultimately, give New Yorkers better representation."
The SOLE Act has gained support from legislators from all over the state -- from the far reaches of the North Country to the shores of Long Island, to towns in Central and Western New York. While the supporters of the bill have constituents with very different needs, the legislation would allow for big picture items to make it to the floor of the Assembly or the Senate.
“For too long, partisan political games have barred progress in our state,” said Assemblyman Phil Boyle (R,I,C-Bay Shore). “This legislation would ensure that every member would be given a fighting chance to enact real, significant change for their constituents.”
“The SOLE Act will improve the democratic process in state government, allowing all constituencies in New York to have their voices heard,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia). “By holding an up-or-down vote on issues that speak to the heart of all New Yorkers, we can increase citizen participation and make government more accountable and responsive.”
“It is our job as elected officials to fight for our constituents and do what is right for those we represent,” said Assemblyman Tom McKevitt (R,C,I-East Meadow). “The bill that we propose would help make sure that sound and effective legislation sees the light of day, allowing us to better fight for our priorities.”
"Keeping good ideas moving in an often slow-to-react legislature is a big challenge, especially in the finite time that lawmakers meet to deliberate," said Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C-Black River). "The SOLE Act will help keep a healthy momentum of ideas on the Assembly and Senate floors. This way, whether a bill addresses government reform or taxpayer savings, it will have a fair shot for passage on the floor, rather than just get lost in committee after committee."
“For too long, partisan gridlock and political gamesmanship have blocked meaningful reform and kept worthy bills from reaching the floor for a vote,” said Assemblyman John D. Ceretto (R,I-Lewiston). “This legislation would help reform state government, increase transparency, and give rank-and-file members and their constituents a stronger voice in Albany.”
“The SOLE Act would ensure that all people of New York State have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the Assembly,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R,C-Chautauqua), member of the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee. “Every year, significant issues facing Western New York are passed over in favor of those issues that only impact a portion of the population in New York City. Democracy means government by the people, and preserving that belief is essential for the future of our state.”
"Every day, I look forward to working on serious reform items that will save taxpayer dollars and protect the interests of all New Yorkers, but often it's the most important changes that get the biggest pushback from status quo politicians," said Assemblyman Steven F. McLauglin (R,C-Melrose). "However, with the passage of the SOLE Act, each legislator will have an opportunity to bring a bill of significance to the floor of the legislature for an up-or-down vote. You couldn't get more fair than that."
“I know that allowing a vote on an unfiltered idea every two years seems like risky business for the Majority, but we’re confident they can handle baby steps,” said Assemblyman Don Miller (R,C,I-Clay).
“This act gives legislators an unfiltered voice; a way to express their concerns for the constituents they represent in a democratic fashion. Representatives deserve to openly debate the issues their communities face, without needing days, months or even years to cut through bureaucratic red tape,” said Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R,C,I-New Hartford).
Johns explained that the SOLE Act would allow items such as term limits, campaign finance reform and a state spending cap to make it to the floor for a vote. “I expect that this common-sense reform measure will have the support of many advocates, legislators and, most importantly, the citizens and taxpayers we serve,” he concluded.