Thursday, April 14, 2011

Senators Push for Hearing on Ethics

An “Arcane” Senate Rule? Only in NY.

known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric.

“Arcane” was the word used yesterday to describe the Senate Democrats’ petition for a public hearing. Given that public hearings are such rare event in Albany, you might be inclined to think they only happen when a top-secret rule is employed. But the reality is that there is nothing mysterious, secret, obscure, or even esoteric about petitioning for a public hearing. The rules are quite clear and publicly available. Senators may force a public hearing with a petition signed by one third of committee members. Unless a majority of committee members vote to not hold a hearing, a public hearing must be held in 14 days.

Bravo to the Senate Democrats for finally using this rule in a very public way. We hope to see more of this type of thing -- it's the way legislature's are supposed to work. If some in the legislature are squelching efforts at transparency, at the very least, the public has a right to know who is responsible.

As we have said before, 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. State of Politics notes that the bills in question are on establishing an independent commission on governmental ethics; stripping elected officials convicted of misusing office of pensions; increasing financial and client disclosure requirements, restricting the personal use of campaign funds; and eliminating Pay-to-Play.

Given the recent and all too familiar corruption scandals, ethics reform should not be left up to three men in a room. As we recently wrote, our elected leaders need to regain their standing with the public by reforming a system that far too many see as corrupt and lacking legitimacy. Public trust simply cannot be restored without public input.

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