Thursday, May 19, 2011

Groups to Defend Law Ending Prison Based Gerrymandering

This week, the Brennan Center and other civil rights organizations stepped up to defend New York’s law that ends prison based gerrymandering. The law, which requires that incarcerated persons be allocated as residents of their home communities, is currently being challenged by New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and others in the Little v. LATFOR.

Filing a motion in New York Supreme Court asking to intervene to help defend the law, which our colleague Erika Wood has previously discussed on ReformNY, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, D­Ä“mos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative are representing fifteen rural and urban voters and three nonprofit organizations.

We will be following this case on ReformNY. For more on Little v. LATFOR, please visit the case page on the Brennan Center's website.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brennan Center Urges Floor Vote on Ethics Reforms

The Brennan Center for Justice wrote members of the New York State Senate today urging them to sign the petitions for chamber consideration circulated last week by Senators Squadron, Krueger, Rivera, and Addabbo to force a floor vote on four ethics bills. As our readers know, we have long advocated for rules that make it easier for rank-and-file legislators to be able to advance legislation over the wishes of the majority, and we are pleased to see that Senators are actually using them. If the Senators are able to obtain the signature of three-fifths of the entire senate, their bills will subject to a public and binding vote by the entire chamber. This will give New Yorkers an opportunity to find out where their elected officials stand on ethics reforms.

To view the letter, click here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Today: A Forum on Ethics

A Forum?

The State Senate minority is holding a public forum today on a number of ethics reforms. Forum? Yes. Why not a hearing? Because the Senate's leadership doesn't want to have one.

New Yorkers again find themselves locked out of the discussion in Albany on a very important issue. The Senate's majority will not allow a public legislative hearing on ethics, so the Senate's minority is holding a "public forum" on the bills currently before the Senate. Liz Benjamin described a forum last week as basically a hearing without the official bells and whistles -- and apparently some of those bells and whistles are Senate A/V support, as the Senate minority will be hosting a video livestream of the forum on their own platform instead of the Senate web site.

Watch live streaming video from nysendems at

Hardships notwithstanding, the forum will be full-featured. Our own general counsel, Kelly Williams, will be on hand to give a statement and participate in the discussion along with representatives from a host of other major reform organizations like NYPIRG, Common Cause, Citizens Union, and the League of Women Voters. The whole event will be livestreamed here, and questions will be taken via Twitter -- use the tag #albanyethics to get noticed!

On the Ethics Bills

Our Kelly Williams will be talking about the failure of the Legislative Ethics Commission, the body the legislature created to police itself in the last round of Albany ethics changes, back in 2007. The LEC hasn't cut it, and we're arguing for an independent and unified ethics watchdog to oversee state government. Further, we're calling for a system where all elected officials, attorneys or not, to make meaningful disclosure of their incomes and, where applicable, their clients. Finally, we're looking ahead -- even after an ethics package with teeth passes, we'll need meaningful campaign finance reform to truly and irrevocably change the culture in Albany.

Here's Kelly's opening statement (PDF):
Kelly Williams Statement for May 4, 2011 Forum on Ethics Legislation