Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Through the Albany Looking Glass

In high functioning legislatures, one or both chambers will assess a subject, draft a bill, hold hearings, deliberate, and pass or reject legislation. When similar (or not so similar) bills on the same subject are passed, a conference committee will typically be held between representatives from the upper and lower chambers to reconcile the differences and craft a compromise bill.

Now step through the looking glass and see how we do it in the Empire State.

Yesterday, in a piece about the shifting balance of power in Albany, New York Sun columnist Davidson Goldin lauds the Legislature, in effect, for avoiding moderation and circumventing proper legislative process. He writes that, by passing "one-house bills" that have no hope of becoming law, "[e]ach chamber can stake out an extreme position that then opens the door to negotiations -- leading to a compromise that generally serves the people of this state fairly well."

I guess when you live in New York too long, even the most dysfunctional elements of state government can start to look reasonable.

Instead of working toward viable legislation from the beginning, our Legislature wastes time and taxpayer money by crafting bills that are dead-on-arrival in the other chamber. In the best case, compromise is eventually reached, though we note that it is overwhelmingly done behind closed doors rather than in the public setting a conference committee could create. But more often, the Legislature ends each session with loads of unfinished business--Senate and Assembly bills on the same important subject that are derailed by the lack of institutionalized conference committees.

The Senate and Assembly should amend their operating rules to make the conference committee a regular part of New York's legislative process, including a mechanism for bill sponsors to force a conference committee when the two chambers have passed legislation on the same topic.

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