Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What about the Assembly?

Over the past two weeks, the Assembly has been lauded as a model of a functioning legislative body, churning through a dizzying number of bills in its final days before recess.

Compared to the Senate, of course, the praise is justified. The Assembly has both met and passed legislation in the past two weeks while the Senate has been mired in quorum-less faux sessions, court battles, and media posturing. But what we mean when we talk about a functioning chamber merits further examination.

Last Monday, the Assembly met for 4 and a half hours and passed 78 bills on topics ranging from animal control programs to voting machine allocation. That works out to about one bill every 3 and a half minutes – which means that it is unlikely that a single one of these bills received any debate. There’s no question that the chamber is highly productive, but the legislation it produces is not carefully considered, especially given the fact that it is extremely unlikely that any of these bills were publicly reviewed, debated or amended in committee either.

Things didn’t improve as the session came to a close. In the final 13 hours of session, the Assembly acted on 202 bills, or 16 percent of all legislation passed this year. Add that to the 317 bills passed last week, and you get 41% of all legislation passed this year – all brought to the floor in the final week of the session. The end-of-session logjam, typical of both legislative chambers in Albany, precludes full review of legislation and makes it difficult for the public to follow and weigh in on legislative action.

Finally, we mustn’t overlook Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s role in this year’s secretive budget process that provoked Tom Golisano’s ire and that may well have set the coup in motion. As the Times reported in March, it was Silver’s proclivity toward closed-door meetings and leadership control of the legislative process that pushed the budget process into the dark, circumventing open meeting laws intended to promote government transparency.

So yes, the Assembly is technically a functional chamber in that it was able to continue on with business as usual as the Senate devolved into chaos. But it's a measure of how far we've sunk in New York that this is now considered praiseworthy in some circles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever wondered why a bill does not get debated? It's because it is noncontroversial. In particular, the minority decdies not to debate it. Sometimes a debate occurs because majority members do not support a bill, for example, Mr. Brennan and mayoral control of NEW York City schools. Mostly, no debate occurs because the minority who most likely represent the opposition decide not to. If you want to complain about no debates, your basically saying the minority is not doing its job.

If you look at the end of session, many bills are done on behalf of local governments. Do you really think extending a sales tax in some county deserves a debate?