Friday, March 16, 2012

New York State Senate Majority Kills 311 Bills in a Single Day

Over 311 legislative proposals were killed in one fell swoop in Albany this week, after the Senate majority adopted a new method to stall legislation: refer all bills where a motion for committee consideration has been filed to the Rules Committee, where they can be ignored.

The new strategy lets them circumvent a senate rule designed to allow rank-and-file senators to force a committee vote on their bills over the objection of leadership.

The rule on motions for committee consideration was first introduced in 2009 by a Democratic majority and passed again by a Republican majority in 2011. The new rule was intended to increase the ability of rank-and-file members to move their bills out of committee by forcing chairs to place the bill on the committee agenda and schedule a vote. This replaced the Senate’s earlier rule on discharge motions which allowed a chair to stall a bill even if the bill had enough support to pass.

According to a three-paragraph letter, sent to committee chairs Tuesday morning, the Temporary President of the Senate “may at any time refer bills to the Rules Committee,” and at the request of the Temporary President, “any pending motions for committee consideration have been discharged from the respective committee and committed to the Rules Committee.”

A search through the legislative research service reveals that an astonishing 311 bills were sent to the rules committee on March 12, 2012.

This action goes against the spirit of greater transparency and accountability that the new rules were meant to accomplish. A 2009 joint statement which included then-Senate President Malcolm A. Smith and Minority Leader Dean Skelos, touted how these rules would increase the power of rank-and-file members. “No longer will the Senate be run by leaders making all the decisions,” the statement said.

Moreover, in summarizing how the new rules-- including the new motion for committee consideration– would strengthen the committee process, the statement added that “these changes will give greater power and authority to individual committee chairs and members so they can consider, judge and act on legislation independent of leadership.”

It’s disheartening to see how the majority has distorted the rules. The ability to kill 311 bills in a single day speaks to how truly “independent of leadership” the Senate has become.

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