Assemblyman Robert C. Oaks (R-Macedon) and members of the Assembly Minority conference were joined today by representatives of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law to call on the Assembly to make legislative reform the first order of business when it returns for its new session in January.
"New Yorkers want to see an on-time budget, and they are demanding a change in the way the Assembly conducts its business," Oaks said. "Speaker Sheldon Silver needs to make reform the No. 1 priority in the 2005 session."
According to Oaks, the Assembly Minority has offered sweeping reforms to the Assembly rules at the beginning of each legislative cycle for the past decade. Recently, all 47 Minority members pledged their support to the Assembly rules reforms recommended by the Brennan Center (with minor exceptions). The members also said they will support the latest version of a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Stringer (D-NY) and 26 other Assembly Majority members as a positive first step toward achieving reform.
"When we make our reform proposal on the floor of the Assembly in January, people will be watching to see if the Assembly Majority will join us in reform or block these critical efforts," added Oaks.
In addition to the Brennan Center and Stringer proposals, Oaks and his Minority colleagues are advocating several measures that would go much further toward achieving a more open, responsible and responsive state government and giving a greater voice to rank-and-file legislators.
Among the measures that the Assembly Minority conference has long championed, in addition to the Brennan Centerís recommendations, are those to:
- 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 member.
- 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 "memberís 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 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.