Monday, March 05, 2007

Poor Process, Part Two

This morning’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester. Brodsky argued:
In fact, the Legislature’s record is a good one. A lot depends on how you measure success. A successful legislature will do three things well: pass laws; provide ordinary people access to power and enable them to influence decisions; and, most important, check abuse of executive power.

By those standards, New York’s Legislature is doing well.
While we agree that the Legislature appears to be improving on the first and last of Brodsky’s measures, the middle one, providing access to the public and rank-and-file members, needs some serious work.

As we wrote earlier today, most of the progress that has been made during Eliot Spitzer’s short term as governor has come at the expense of public input -- with deals brokered behind closed doors without hearings and public comment.

We agree with Assemblyman Brodsky that New Yorkers do have access to their legislators in Albany and their home districts, but under the current rules, this access is all but worthless unless you happen to live in the district of a chamber leader or committee chair. Rank-and-file members have very little power to influence policy in the face of leadership opposition. Our research shows that in 2005 (the last year for which complete stats are available), there were almost no hearings held on major legislation that actually became law; there was substantive debate on fewer than 5% of major bills that became law; fewer than 10% of bills introduced were actually passed into law; and neither house voted down a single bill that was subject to a floor vote. At the very least, this casts some doubt on Assemblyman Brodsky's contention that the legislature is "doing well."

The fact is that process matters. The rules matter. A legislative process that is truly open to public comment and rank-and file member input will create superior public policy. It’s time for the Legislature to adopt truly transformative changes to its operating rules.

1 comment:

David said...

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky misconstrues Governor Spitzer’s behavior in shining a bright light on the ways and means of the state legislature in Albany. Mr. Brodsky portrays the Governor’s attacks on the legislature as an attack on the constitutional balance of power between the executive and legislative branch. But that is not at all what the Governor is attempting to deal with.

The following example is but a microcosm of what’s wrong with the state legislature: last Fall, legislation, promoted by the New York State United Teachers Federation,and adopted UNANIMOUSLY BY THE STATE ASSEMBLY AND STATE SENATE would have made deleterious, one-sided changes to the Taylor Law that would have put school districts (i.e., the taxpayers) under pressure to concede important issues to the teachers unions in the collective bargaining process. The legislation would have imposed the burden of proof on districts if the unions accused districts of not bargaining in good faith (whatever that means). If districts failed to concede issues to the unions—the union proposals in negotiations would automatically prevail—and districts (i.e., the taxpayer) would have been penalized. There was nothing mutual about the wording of this legislation. This legislation was seriously anti- school district and anti- taxpayer. Fortunately, Governor Pataki vetoed the legislation.

Every state assemblymember and senator, regardless of party, voted for this misbegotten bill.

This goes on all the time. And this is what Governor Spitzer has been elected to stop.

This has nothing to do with the proper role and responsibility of the legislature—it’s all about what prompts and motivates the legislature to act.

Mr. Brodsky just doesn’t get it.