Why Good Legislation Doesn’t Always See The Light Of Day

Legislative Column from Assemblyman Marc W. Butler (R,C-Newport)
April 24, 2015

If there is one thing that rings true about Albany, it is that it needs some sunshine. The mentality that “things have always been done that way” is hindering state government from being more responsive and accountable to the people.

I have consistently called for reform of how the Assembly operates. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I sponsored and voted for rules changes that would make the Assembly more open and transparent. The activities during this week’s legislative committee meetings highlighted this problem – the way things have been done for years simply isn’t working.

The Assembly Majority wields strong control over the committees where legislation is vetted. In those committees, bills are either released to come to the floor for a vote, or, as is often the case with legislation sponsored by the Assembly Minority, the bills never leave the committee. We have a term for this practice – killing a bill.

This week, numerous bills were killed, and it happened to much-needed legislation. The Committee on Education met and the Assembly Majority refused to release an education reform bill that would have put a moratorium on high-stakes Common Core testing. Three bills that would have bolstered Second Amendment rights by repealing all or portions of the governor’s so-called SAFE Act also were killed in committee. Additional legislation that would have increased the safety of our communities from sex offenders and child predators also was stopped in its tracks.

These bills deserved to come to the floor for consideration by the entire Assembly, they are that important. Yet, because of the rules in place, it is entirely acceptable for a small number of people to have complete control over whether these bills are ever voted on.

This important part of the legislative process is never seen by the public. Elected officials can hide behind the fact that these meetings, although open to the public, are difficult to attend. Many people are unaware they can attend these meetings. I would venture to say very few. Additionally, legislators’ votes in these committee meetings are never made public. Being cloistered away without having to answer to the people allows the Majority to say one thing but never follow through.

I still advocate for the changes I proposed in the past – that committee meetings be recorded and made available online and all votes be recorded and made public. Making these simple changes would mean more legislation could reach the floor of the Assembly for a vote.

I welcome your input on this or any other legislative topic. Please share your thoughts with me by calling my Herkimer Office at 315-866-1632, my Johnstown Office at 518-762-6486, or by emailing me at butlerm@assembly.state.ny.us.