Tuesday, June 09, 2009

An Assessment of the Senate's New Rules

We just finished reviewing a copy of the rules resolution passed by the Senate yesterday to see if the new majority really followed through on the promises made by Senator Skelos.

For the most part, the rules do what Skelos said they will, with the major caveat that none of the most important changes go into effect until July 15, 2009 – after the session ends for this year. How the chamber will be run for the next two weeks remains to be seen.

The resolution also punts on proxy voting in committees – while Skelos said that they would address members voting in absentia, the new rules simply state that all committee members must attend each meeting unless properly excused by the Chair and the ranker, without preventing such “properly excused” members from voting on legislation. Members still cast votes on “official voting sheets” delivered to the chair, which members typically fax in rather than delivering them in person.

Of course, as we blogged yesterday, the resolution really misses the boat on committees entirely. There is nothing in these new rules about an amendment or mark-up process in committees or producing substantive reports showing the work of committees on legislation. Bills do not even have to be read before a committee to receive a vote.

But the resolution delivers pretty much everywhere else. If the new majority sticks to the rules they passed, member resources will be distributed more equitably and central staff will be allocated proportionally to the membership of the chamber. All senators will receive the same allocation of staff funding for their offices, and allocations for office rent will be based on real estate values in each members’ district. These are basic steps, but New York has long lagged behind the rest of the country in this regard.

The rule creating a new “motion for consideration” which allows members to either move for a vote or petition for a bill to be placed on the active list is surprisingly rigorous. Motions or petitions receiving the support of a majority of members present and voting and a majority of the chamber, respectively, will move bills onto the active list even over the wishes of leadership. These bills will come before the chamber for a vote on the next session day, or, if the motion or petition is made within the last four days of a legislative session, the bill will receive an immediate floor vote.

The other elements of Skelos’ proposal – creating a NYSPAN channel, publishing committee work products, eliminating “aye without recommendation votes,” extending budget debate, effectively eliminating messages of necessity, and imposing term limits on committee chairs – are all in the resolution as Skelos said they would be.

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