Monday, July 13, 2009

Three Reforms for the Post-Coup Senate

This week, the Senate is likely to vote on a new rules resolution that will determine how the post-coup chamber will run. While Republicans have already accused Democrats of reneging on reform, it seems likely that the key changes enacted by the June 8th rules resolution – including more equitable distribution of resources and a procedure for moving bills to the floor over the wishes of the majority leader – will hold. But both caucuses have been silent on committees, which did not receive much attention during the month-long stalemate, or, for that matter, in the decades leading up to it.

The Senate's failure to address committees is particularly egregious given that a strong committee system could be the best counterbalance to Espada’s power as Majority Leader. If the Senate is to limit the extent to which one or two leaders can control the entire legislative agenda, it will create a deliberative committee process through the following three reforms:

  1. Require committees to hold hearings on all bills unless the committee votes to dispense with a hearing;
  2. Require committees to read all bills for amendments unless the committee votes to proceed directly for a vote; and
  3. Improve the rule requiring committees to produce reports on all bills to include a summary of majority and minority opinions, records of all amendments and comments made by committee members, transcripts of hearings on the bill, and voting records.

If these sound like relatively basic requests, it’s because they are. But they’ll go a long way toward making committees – rather than the whims of chamber leadership – the driving force behind policymaking in New York.

To read the Brennan Center’s complete recommendations for rules reform, including proposed language for incorporating these reforms into the Senate’s operating rules, click here.

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