Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Public Markup before Committee Markup?

Last week, the Senate unveiled a new website that Majority Leader Malcolm Smith promises will help “put the Senate into the hands of the people.”

The site includes lots of new features like links to members’ Twitter feeds and an “Open Data” page that includes budget and appropriations information, but we were particularly drawn to a section of the new site called “NYSenate Markup.”

Given our concern about the Temporary Committee on Rules and Administration Reform’s failure to recommend a robust committee markup or amendment process in its recent report, we were intrigued by such a prominent reference to markup on the Senate site.

The online markup feature allows an opportunity for public comments on legislation, a worthwhile goal that has been stymied in the past by secret deliberations on legislation and a lack of committee hearings. But a piece of the puzzle is still missing.

When one visits the federally-focused website on which the feature is based, the first thing you see is a prominent definition of ‘markup:’ “The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.” Allowing the public to take a crack at this process is a great idea, but the more basic principle that committees should substantively work on legislation has yet to be affirmed in New York.

We're thrilled that the Senate is thinking big, but big ideas may never become a reality if the chamber's rules don't provide lawmakers with the tools they need to incorporate public input and their own expertise into the legislation under their consideration.

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