Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R,I,C,WF-East Northport) reaffirmed his commitment to passing meaningful budgetary and government reform, and challenged the Assembly Speaker to make "real reform the No. 1 priority" for the 2005 legislative session. Members of the Assembly minority conference were joined by representatives of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law on Nov. 17 to call for reform.
"Since I was first elected to the Assembly in 2002, I have made reform one of my main priorities," Raia said. "Oddly enough, the recent groundswell of public support spurred on by the Brennan Center’s report on our state Legislature has made reform the mantra of almost every campaign this year. New Yorkers across the state have clearly called for reform; I just hope the leader of the Assembly was listening and is ready to help bring about real, meaningful reform."
Scott Schell, spokesperson for the Brennan Center, said, "Since the release of the Brennan Center report in July, the people of New York state have been demanding an end to ‘business as usual’ in Albany. We all know that bipartisan efforts are rarely seen in the Legislature. By joining the push for reform, Minority Leader Charles Nesbitt and the minority conference are saying to the people of New York that this reform effort is real, it’s gaining steam, and positive change is near at hand."
For the past decade, the Assembly minority have offered sweeping reforms to Assembly rules to bring about more open government, fairer representation and an end to late state budgets. Unfortunately, Raia said, calls for reform had been ignored by the Assembly leadership…until now.
Recently, all 47 minority members pledged support to the Assembly rules reforms recommended by the Brennan Center (with minor exceptions). They have also pledged support for the latest version of a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Stringer (D-NY) and 26 other Assembly majority members.
"If the Assembly majority is serious about reform, then I think the very first step is to work with all members of the Assembly interested in reform," said Raia, "and they should leave partisanship at the door. It would certainly show a positive first step toward achieving the real reform necessary to fix our dysfunctional government."
Assemblyman Raia said he supports additional measures that would help achieve a more open, responsible and responsive state government, and give greater voice to rank-and-file legislators:
- Further open the "motion to discharge" procedure to allow for consideration of bills by the entire legislative body despite inaction on the committee level.
- Require that committee membership reflect the majority to minority membership ratio in the Assembly. Under the current formula, committee membership is calculated by determining the ratio of majority to minority members in the Assembly, and giving that ratio to the majority, plus any fractions, plus one additional member. For example, the Libraries Committee currently consists of eight majority and one minority.
- Allow the ranking minority member on each committee to call for public hearings by the committee.
- Require that when a motion to hold a bill fails in committee, an immediate motion be made to report that bill.
- Create a "member’s prerogative" allowing each Assembly member to bring at least one bill of statewide implication to the floor for a vote during each legislative session.
- Require that the Rules Committee provide an agenda and that it convene regularly scheduled meetings, as is now done by the other committees.
- Require that bills with home rule requests from local municipalities be considered in committee at the first meeting that is held after the bill has been in committee for three days.
- Require a supermajority, or two-thirds, vote for final passage of all bills that impose, continue or revive taxes.
- Require that all bills on the calendar that impose a mandate on localities or school districts, as well as all bills that would require additional taxes, be specifically labeled or identified as such on the calendar.
- Enact various provisions to ensure timely passage of the state budget, including forbidding consideration of nonbudget bills after April 1 if a budget is not in place and the convening of budget conference committees no later than March 15 of each year to facilitate the process of finalizing a budget before the April 1 deadline.
"Real reform is what we are talking about here. Enacting the provisions supported by the Brennan Center is a no-brainer," Raia concluded. "It’s a solution that has been provided in a nonpolitical manner in which both our minority conference and many majority Assembly members support. The additional reforms I support would go even further to reforming our system to create an even more responsive and responsible government. The question is: ‘How serious is Speaker Sheldon Silver with regard to reform?’
"And, if reform is really a top priority for the Assembly, I suggest we convene before the end of the year and adopt meaningful reform which actually brings change to our system, not token legislation wrapped in a reform title and meant only to appease the public and fool the voter."