2004-10-15 / Editorial/Opinion

Reform State Legislature To Better Serve Citizens

Both houses of the New York State Legislature are broken and badly need to be reformed so that they can realistically serve our citizens. That is not our viewpoint alone. Every major newspaper in the state has made the same point. The major problem is one of control. Although there are 62 senators and 150 assembly members in the bicameral legislature, all of the major decisions are really made by only three men: Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. The three have absolute control over what happens in Albany. Silver, for example, can use the vote of any member of the Assembly who happens to be absent for a vote as his own without seeking guidance from the absent member. In any number of bills this year, the winning margin in passing the bill was Silver’s use of the absentee member’s votes. Committee chairs can tie a bill up in committee for years at the request of the leadership. Committees meet seldom to vote on bills and committee reports are hardly ever made on the floor prior to a vote, because the leadership has already decided which way the bill will go. Few legislators have the backbone to stand against the leadership. Those who do lose their committee chairs and their perks – and therefore, money. The Brennan Center For Justice at New York University has issued a report with recommendations for democratizing the legislature. Seventeen Democratic Assembly members have filed a bill reflecting those changes. Silver has reluctantly allowed the rebellion to go forward. Bruno has established a bipartisan committee to look at the changes – virtually assuring that they will die a lingering death in the Senate. We all need to let Audrey Pheffer, Michelle Titus, Ada Smith and Malcolm Smith that we are angry and we are not going to take it any more. It is time for reform of the legislature that has become the laughing stock of America.

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