Thursday, April 24, 2008

Assembly Hearing Attendance:
Send Members Back to School

In response to the recent spate of construction-related deaths and accidents in the city, this morning the Assembly held a joint hearing of the Codes, Cities and Housing committees at 250 Broadway. As the notice of public hearing points out, there were nine recent construction deaths (and additional injuries). Today only eight Assembly members out of more than 50 from the combined committee membership actually showed up.

This is no doubt an important issue and the members present deserve praise for their oversight and for proposing several bills to further regulate construction and enforce building codes. The acting head of the city Department of Buildings testified, as did a number of city elected officials and advocates.

However, as we know from New York State Legislative Process, the original Albany report released by the Brennan Center in 2004, hearings on bills are a rarity. According to the report, in the Assembly from 1997 to 2001, out of 202 pieces of major legislation that were ultimately passed where there exists complete information, only one was the subject of a committee hearing—.05%. Members respond that they do hold hearings on issues (which, unlike today, aren't usually about specific legislation.)

Committee attendance for meetings or hearings is virtually unknown because, even if recorded, it’s not readily accessible to the public. This is part of a larger problem of a general lack of transparency and accountability in the state legislature. As the process exists today, constituents are left in the dark about the working habits—or lack thereof—of their representatives. Like you and I were subject to in school, attendance should be taken and should be published on the web immediately.

Attending today’s hearing were Jim Brennan and Joe Lentol, chairs of Cities and Codes respectively, and a mix of representatives who represent areas were the accidents occurred and other interested parties: Jonathon Bing, Deborah Glick, Micah Kellner, Linda Rosenthal, Mark Weprin and Rory Lancman. As of the start of testimony, absent from the hearing was the Housing committee chair, and only two of the 27 members of his committee were present.

It’s unreasonable to insist that every member, even a majority of the members, attend today’s meeting. Members may have reasonable conflicts or great distances to travel, especially from upstate when the meeting is downstate. However, it’s uninspiring that about 15% of the total membership of the three committees were present especially considering the importance and topicality of the issue.

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