Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Case for Rules Reform Today

Looks like the Governor’s threats of legal action and docking pay may have paid off, as the warring factions in the Senate have agreed to come together in an extraordinary session this afternoon. While there is always a chance that today’s meeting will be a repeat of Monday’s farcical dueling sessions, holding an actual session before the leadership fight is resolved could turn out to be the best thing to happen to either side. Today, on neutral ground, Senators can pass a rules reform resolution that will ensure that whoever ends up on the losing side of the Senate battle will still have an active role in governing.

Nobody has heeded our call to break rank and work with the other side to enact rules reform, no doubt in large part because working with the other side would mean giving a quorum – and the opportunity to legislate – to the opposition. But today, all 62 Senators will be in the room and they will be forced to legislate. Now is the moment to enact a bipartisan reform proposal to prove both sides’ commitment to reform and to ensure that the Senate can return to some semblance of function next year.

This may also prove useful in negotiating a power-sharing agreement, which both caucuses will eventually have to do. As Larry Norden stated yesterday on Buffalo Public Radio, one reason that a power-sharing agreement in which each side gets to appoint members to certain powerful leadership posts does not work in New York is because there is only one leadership role that really matters – that of the Majority Leader. By enacting reforms to strengthen committees and make them the engine of the legislative process that they are in most other states and in Congress, the Senate can decentralize power and divide authority over the legislative process more equitably.

The New York State Senate will not get a lifeline like this again. Its members should take the long view and act to ensure that 2010 is not a repeat of this ignominious session year.

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