Monday, June 08, 2009

Today's Rules Changes

According to a statement from Dean Skelos’ office, the newly formed “bipartisan majority” voted to adopt some rules reforms when they seized control this afternoon – something that the Democrats had yet to do, which, according to the Times, contributed to Tom Golisano’s ire.

Golisano, by the way, is adamant that this is all in the name of reform. In a press conference this evening, he cited our report as evidence that the legislature is broken.

Here’s a very brief rundown of the rules changes passed today:

  • 8-year term limits for Committee Chairs and Rankers
  • Eliminating proxy voting in committee
  • Eliminating “aye without recommendation" votes
  • Increased transparency (along the lines of what the [former?] Democratic majority had already begun to do)
  • Shared access to administrative resources such as printing, mailing, and supplies
  • Allocating district offices based on district area
  • Allocating the same base staff salary to all members
  • Allocating committee chairs and central staff proportionally to the majority/minority split of the chamber
  • Allowing non-sponsor floor amendments to be taken up by the full chamber without returning to committee
  • Limiting messages of necessity
  • Allowing sponsor motions and petitions to place bills on the active list
  • Allowing procedural votes to proceed with only a majority of members present – not a majority of members elected – on the floor
  • Allowing budget debate to exceed four hours

Some of these items seem like real improvements, but it’s difficult to know for sure without seeing the text of the reforms passed today. In the past, Senate Republicans have been known to claim to enact reforms while crafting the language of the changes in such a way as to preserve the status quo – or make the situation worse. If these changes are what they seem to be, they represent (for the most part) a real improvement over the current rules. However, even these changes appear to ignore what is perhaps the biggest problem in the way the New York Senate functions -- the Senate’s broken committee process. See our recommendations for creating more robust committees here and here.

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