Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fixing Mistakes in the Ethics Bill

If the Governor signs the Ethics Bill, can drafting mistakes be fixed? Yes, of course, the legislature could pass amendments to the bill to fix mistakes that resulted from a lousy process. In fact, this came up during the Senate's floor debate over the bill, and we've heard from several sources that the Democrats are currently looking at drafting "technical" amendments to the bill. But claims by legislators that they will fix mistakes after passage should satisfy no one, either in this case or in the future. Here are at least five reasons why:

1. This is no way to pass what has been dubbed the most significant overhaul of the state's ethics laws in decades. We shouldn't be cleaning up such significant drafting mistakes after a bill has passed both houses, particularly when they could have easily been caught if the process was more open and deliberative to begin with;

2. It is reasonable to ask whether any of the mistakes the Legislature is now reviewing (it is our undertsanding others have been found) would have been caught after passage if the Governor hadn't threatened a veto. I can honestly say that we at the Brennan Center probably would have spent less time reviewing the bill this past week absent a veto threat (for without that threat, the promise of fixing at least some mistakes relatively quickly would have seemed slim to none);

3. Unfortunately, the legislature has a sorry history of taking months and sometimes years to fix drafting mistakes (which, surprise! are not that uncommon in Albany), particularly when the fixes are not a priority matter for leadership or a majority of its members;

4. If "fixes" are passed in the same closed manner as the original bill, how will we be sure that they fully fix the problems identified, or don't create other problems?;

5. Who knows if all of the drafting issues and other problems in this major overhaul of the State's ethic code have been identified, even now? When you pass a bill like this in a matter of days, drafting it behind closed doors, there are bound to be undiscovered mistakes and potential unintended consequences of drafting choices -- even after a handful of outside groups have had a few more days to review it.

No comments: