Monday, July 20, 2009

Measuring the new Senate Rules against the Assembly

The Assembly may come to miss the sideshow in the state’s upper chamber. With the passage of the Senate’s new rules on Thursday, the Assembly now lags far behind in enacting reforms. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the reforms passed by the Senate last week and how they compare to the current Assembly rules.

Impose 8-year term limits on the offices of majority leader, minority leader, temporary president, committee chairs, and ranking members.

BEHIND THE SENATE: Nothing in Assembly rules limits the terms of any leaders.

Allow a bill sponsor to force a committee to vote on her bill within 45 days

BEHIND THE SENATE: Assembly bill sponsors may file a request for committee consideration on a bill, but the committee is not required to act on the request until the end of the second year of the term. (Rule IV § 5 (b))

Allow 1/3 of the members of a committee to petition for hearings on specific legislation (unless majority of members reject the petition.)

ON PAR WITH THE SENATE: In the Assembly, a majority of committee members can petition for a hearing. (Rule IV § 4 (a))

Require the Finance committee and other relevant committees to produce a plan for public hearings regarding impact of state budget

AHEAD OF THE SENATE: The Assembly rules require chairs of each committee to call at least one public hearing regarding the implementation of the state budget. (Rule IV § 4 (b))

Require committees to file annual reports detailing legislative and oversight activities.

ON PAR WITH THE SENATE: The Assembly has a rule requiring annual committee reports detailing activities and legislative proposals. (Rule IV § 9)

Allow members to move bills to the active list over the wishes of the majority leader – bills must receive a vote within four legislative days after a successful motion

BEHIND THE SENATE: The Committee on Rules, which is controlled by the Speaker of the Assembly, determines the order of the calendar. There is no mechanism to allow rank-and-file members to force a bill onto the floor for a vote. (Rule IV § 10(b)(1))

All senators get same base allocation for office staffing and equitable access to common resources

ON PAR WITH THE SENATE: Assembly rules require that members get equal allocations of specific resources, like printing and stationary, and that they should get an equal allocation of base staff funding (Rule V, § 9). It is worth noting, however, that despite the existence of this rule, minority members had budgets that were 33% smaller on average than their counterparts in the majority for the period from October 2007 to March 2008.

Require that all committee records, agendas, votes, minutes, reports, attendance, fiscal notes, active lists, floor votes, floor transcripts, calendars, the payroll report, and expenditure report be made available to the public in a searchable database.

BEHIND THE SENATE: The Assembly rules reaffirm that the chamber will comply with the freedom of information law, but they make no attempt to go further to make legislative records accessible to the public. (Rule VIII)

Strange as it may sound in light of the events of the past six weeks, the Assembly could stand to take a cue from Senate, especially where empowering rank-and-file members (by allowing them to force committee review and floor votes on their bills) is concerned. And if they ever do get around to improving their rules, why not up the ante and establish a committee mark-up procedure and requirements for committee reports?

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