Reform in Albany Could Be the First Step of Many

January 14, 2005

On Jan. 11, my colleagues and I passed the most significant set of Assembly rules changes in recent memory. These bipartisan measures will begin to improve the way the Assembly conducts its business. This is a good start.

Oftentimes when I meet people throughout the district, I am asked why the budget is late, or why it seems like little gets done in Albany. Many of my colleagues in Albany, myself included, are working hard to improve state government by trying to pass a budget on time and making other changes that benefit taxpayers. It is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve bipartisan consensus on all the issues.

I commend Speaker Sheldon Silver for allowing bipartisanship on this matter. Reform is so important, and it is something that the Assembly minority conference under the leadership of Charles Nesbitt has long promoted.

Highlights of the package passed in Albany on Monday are:

  • Requiring budget conference committees to convene: Just like children, it seems like the Legislature cannot handle dealing with an entire project at once. Therefore, this process will break it down so that everyone can "handle" one section at a time, so as not to overwhelm people.
  • End the practice of empty-seat voting: If auto workers donít show up for work, no cars are built; if teachers donít show up for work, no one teaches their classes. So why does an assemblymanís vote count, if he isnít even in Albany. This provision ends empty-seat voting and requires legislators to actually be in the chamber to vote.
  • Requiring actual meetings of the Rules Committee, with published agendas: By opening this process, the public will be allowed to see some of the causes of the gridlock that we all despise.
  • Relaxing of the motion to discharge rule to allow rank-and-file members to more easily bring legislation to the floor: This will allow minority members to have legislation heard on the floor more easily, and will begin to remove the stranglehold the Assembly majority conference has on the Legislature.

As I have said, this is a good start, but we have to do more to fix and open the process. I am encouraged by the bipartisanship displayed last week in Albany. If the current spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship continues, we could have the most productive legislative session yet.