Fitzpatrick Calls for Assembly to Make Reform Priority No. 1 in 2005
Joins Assembly Minority Conference and Brennan Center to Urge Rules Changes
November 19, 2004
Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown) and fellow members of the Assembly minority conference were joined at an Albany press conference on Nov. 17 by representatives of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law to urge legislative reform as the first order of business when the Assembly returns for its new session in January. "The Brennan Center report, ‘The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform,’ ranked our state Legislature the most dysfunctional and the least democratic in the nation," said Assemblyman Fitzpatrick. "Considering the facts and figures from the Brennan Center’s analysis we, as the Legislature, need to address the problems that exclude rank-and-file lawmakers and the citizens they represent from the legislative process, and make this our priority for the 2005 legislative session." According to the Brennan Center analysis:
- From 1997 to 2001, fewer than 5 percent of the major bills passed by the Assembly or the Senate were debated on the floor.
- From 1997 to 2001, only 0.5 percent of the major bills passed by the Assembly received a committee hearing, and only 0.7 percent of the major bills passed by the Senate were studied at a hearing.
- From 1997 to 1999, the Assembly voted on 4,365 bills, and not a single bill was voted down.
- New York is the only Legislature that routinely allows "empty seat" voting, a practice in which absent legislators have their votes automatically recorded as a "yea."
- 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 "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 non-budget 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.