Monday, September 18, 2006

Three Men in A Room

Last Week's ArtVoice gave prominent attention to former Senator Lachman's new book "Three Men in A Room," which gives a personal account of how dysfunctional Albany really is. It's a great book, and the Brennan Center's Lawrence Norden was honored to appear with him in two events in Buffalo last week: the first at the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership, and the second on a panel sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Talking Leaves Books. That panel discussion should soon be broadcast on WNED.

One of the things that struck us in Buffalo was the amount of energy there was behind getting the legislature to really reform. There is general agreement that there are four big problems with the legislature:

Committees don't function the way they do in other legislatures (for example, there are rarely hearings on specific legislation; as a result, the public and experts do not have a public forum to shape legislation the way they do in other states);

Leadership has total control over what gets to the floor for debate and a vote (so no matter how popular a bill is, it has no chance of passage over the objection of the speaker or majority leader);

There is no institutionalized method for conference committees (meaning both houses can pass similar bills, but unless the leaders agree to hammer out the differences themselves, nothing gets passed); and

Leadership has near total control over resources (this means, depending on loyalty shown, a legislator can have an extravagant amount for staff, mailings, etc., or have nothing -- not even phone service!).

Categories: General, Legislative Rules

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