Tuesday, July 11, 2006

An Encouraging Development

The drive to reform Albany kicked up a notch yesterday, when the grass-roots group Citizens for Better Government in New York announced its "E-March on Albany" campaign. The campaign will focus on the "3 R's of Reform": redistricting; rules changes in the legislature; and referenda and initiatives. The press release describes the problems CBGNY seeks to address:

• Objective independent third party redistricting. Currently, each house of the legislature appoints a committee of its own members to establish new district boundaries every 10 years after each federal census.

• Additional legislative rules changes. Open up the legislative process. Currently, rules are in place that limits the open debate of legislation and the flow of bills through the process of consideration, debate, amendment, and passage.

• Initiative and Referendum. Currently, New York does not have these processes. These features allow citizens to place proposed laws directly on the ballot without the approval of the legislature. Referendum allows citizens to place on the ballot laws that have been enacted by the legislature for reconsideration by the voters.
On the impetus for the group's efforts, the press release goes on to note:

"Changes in the way the state is governed are long overdue," said David Lum of Pittsford, another of the group's leaders. "Our state legislature is bogged down with the battle of incumbency while the important issues are caught in legislative delays controlled by a few leaders," said Lum.

"Last year, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law issued a report entitled The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform. "It's been almost 1 1/2 years since this report was published and virtually no changes have been made to make the legislative process more transparent, deliberative, accountable, and effective," said John Boroski of Fairport, another of the group's leaders.
An extremely supportive editorial from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle applauds CBGNY's new campaign. The editorial adds that while rules changes made by the Legislature last year "gave the appearance of reform," they failed to address many of the most important constraints to fair, transparent, and informed representation.

Last fall, CBGNY garnered over 1,200 write-in votes for the "Brennan Center Report" as a candidate for state office. While we worry that the report's status as an inanimate object would make it an ineffective representative, we took this as a strong sign of support for the recommendations proposed in the Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform. Here's hoping that the E-March on Albany and the commitment of local newspapers like the Democrat & Chronicle will help motivate legislators to get serious about reforming their rules -- and the state's democratic processes more generally -- next session.

Categories: General, Legislative Rules, Redistricting, Voting

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