Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown) and his Assembly colleagues made rules reform their first order of business in the 2005 legislative session. The changes will improve constituent representation and the dysfunctional legislative and budget processes, the lawmaker said.
"These changes will open the legislative process to the public, require the members to be more accountable to their constituents, and make the Assembly a more efficient and effective form of representative democracy," said Fitzpatrick. "This is the first step toward improving the way the Assembly conducts business, and I look forward to building on this agreement as we begin the 2005 legislative session.
"I am still hopeful that we will make greater use of conference committees to work out differences in bills between the Assembly and Senate, thereby ensuring that vital legislation is not only passed, but can become law," continued Fitzpatrick.
The bipartisan changes adopted by the Assembly reform the legislative body’s operating procedures by addressing budgetary, legislative and representative deficiencies.
The budgetary deficiencies are addressed by:
- Requiring the Assembly and Senate to pass a concurrent budget resolution in early March establishing a timetable for key budget decisions, including immediately convening a joint conference committee to negotiate differences to achieve a more timely state budget
- Conducting annual budget implementation hearings to ensure a consistent process for a public review of state agency compliance with the enacted budget.
Legislative deficiencies are modified by:
- Easing the motion to discharge process by extending the period for consideration
- Establishing a vital subcommittee structure to provide members a greater role in researching, analyzing and debating various legislative issues
- Requiring notification to relevant committee chairs and ranking minority members when a bill’s sponsor amends the bill on the floor to ensure the revised bill is properly reviewed
- Extending the time for unlimited bill introduction from early March to the first Tuesday in May, and establishing the first legislative day in June as the date from which all bills reported from a standing committee are referred to the Rules Committee
- Requiring the Rules Committee to approve acceptance of all messages of necessity from the governor, with consideration given to the message adequacy
- Requiring all bills to be sent to the governor for approval within specific time frames after passage by both the Assembly and Senate: 10 days by May 1, 30 days by June 1 and 45 days thereafter.
Representation is improved by:
- Ending empty-seat voting by requiring slow roll-call votes on all bills
- Instituting Tuesday sessions to allow for more review and debate of legislation
- Overhauling the Assembly’s Rules Committee by clarifying its function as a means for scheduling floor action, and arrange for its meetings to have published agendas and be open to the public.
- Renewing the Assembly’s efforts for a statewide public service cable TV channel to cover state government, with the immediate goal of televising Assembly proceedings statewide (session is currently available through Webcast at www.assembly.state.ny.us and cablecast in the Capital Region)
- Restricting lobbyist access to the rear of the Assembly chamber
- Streamlining the process by which guests are introduced in the Assembly chamber by permitting members to make introductions at the beginning of each day’s legislative session; all other introductions will be made by the chair on behalf of the members.
In addition, the Assembly Steering Committee will continue to develop reform initiatives through the use of subcommittees. Among the topics of continued discussion will be constitutional reform, information technology reforms and legislative redistricting.
The Steering Committee will also examine the Assembly’s standing committee process, including minimum meeting requirements, expanding the committee report process, possible member sanctions for breaches of Assembly attendance rules, and enhanced use of conference committees.