Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Hard of Hearing?

To most, this might seem like boring parliamentary wrangling, but to us at the Brennan Center it highlights everything that is dysfunctional in the Legislature:

The Senate engaged in a heated debate yesterday afternoon as lawmakers in the majority sought a vote on an economic development bill, while lawmakers in the minority sought to get a hearing on the Governor's redistricting bill. More specifically, Senate Democrats attempted to appeal a decision by the Chairman of Rules Committee to reject their petition for an "up or down vote" on whether to hold a committee hearing on the bill. Their petition was deemed invalid because it was allegedly "delivered incorrectly."

As the minority engaged in a seemingly hopeless attempt to resuscitate their petition to vote on holding a hearing on an extremely important and well publicized piece of legislation, the public got yet another taste of how hard it is to force a hearing in Albany -- or even to get legislators to publicly VOTE on whether to allow a hearing.

Hearings devoted to important legislation are a foreign concept in Albany. In contrast, many states REQUIRE hearings on ALL legislation. Hearings provide an important opportunity for legislators to obtain important testimony from both experts in the field and the general public -- and to provide momentum for issues that many legislators would otherwise love to see go away -- like reforming the redistricting process, the State's ethics laws, or our campaign finance rules.

We raised the problem of lack of committee hearings on specific bills in 2004, 2006, and 2008. Even after passing new rules in the last session and the current session -- which made it easier to force a hearing -- it still happens all too rarely in Albany.

In a transparent, deliberative, and democratic legislative process, it should simply not be this difficult to hold a hearing. The public deserves better.

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