Assemblyman Joseph S. Saladino (R,C,I-Massapequa) recently set forth an agenda to bring substantial reforms to the New York state legislative process during a press conference in Albany. With Minority Leader Charles H. Nesbitt (R,C,I-Albion) and his Minority colleagues, Saladino joined Scott Schell, public affairs director for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, to demand that the state Assembly make legislative reform its first order of business when legislators return to Albany for their 2005 session.
"The time to bring change to Albany is now," stated Saladino. "By instituting these reforms, we will make huge strides toward ensuring that the publicís voice is heard."
The Assembly Minority has offered sweeping reforms to the Assembly rules at the beginning of each legislative cycle for the past 10 years. Recently, all 47 Minority members pledged their support to the Assembly rule reforms recommended by the Brennan Center along with additional improvements. Saladino and his colleagues also said they will support the latest version of a resolution sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Stringer (D-NY) as a positive first step toward achieving reform. Twenty-six Majority Assembly members are joining Stringer, Saladino and the Assembly Minority to push for reform.
The Assembly Minority has vowed to bring all the reform proposals to the floor for votes during the 2005 legislative session, even if the Assembly majority leadership attempts to continue to drag its feet on these issues, Saladino said.
"We must no longer allow the majority in the Assembly to stop bills in committee, to thwart the legislative efforts of reformers and to conduct government under a cloak of secrecy. We must hold hearings, we must have a fair ratio of Minority to Majority on committees and we must bring the issues of reform to the floor of the Assembly for open debate and votes," said Saladino.
The lawmaker cited important aspect of the reform package that requires committees to reflect the majority-to-minority membership ratio in the Assembly. Under the current formula, committee membership is calculated in a biased manner, resulting in memberships that far exceed the ratio of majority to minority members in the Assembly, maintained Saladino. Minority Leader Nesbitt pointed to the example of the Committee on Libraries and Education Technology, which is comprised of eight Majority members and one Minority member. This condition exists across the board within all Assembly committees and results in increased funding to New York City at the expense of Long Island and upstate residents, Saladino said.
Another proposal would allow more equality and transparency to the system. Ranking minority members on each committee would be allowed to call for public hearings, the "motion to discharge" procedure would be broadened to allow for consideration of bills by the entire body despite inaction on the committee level, and a "memberís prerogative" would be created to permit each Assembly member to bring at least one bill of statewide implication to the floor for a vote during each legislative session.
The proposal also includes reforms to revamp the state budget process in order to, among other issues, end the imbalance in New York state aid which unfairly funds New York City schools, whose residents pay less in school property taxes than do Long Island residents.
Saladino concluded, "I am appealing to the media and the public to push for this agenda of reform. This was an important issue in my platform for re-election, and it will continue to be one of my highest priorities."