Brennan Center: Albany’s “Still Broken”

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NYU's Brennan Center for Justice just published an update of the famous 2004 report that described in excruciatingly precise detail just how deeply lousy New York State government has become. I haven't had the chance to read it yet but the title of the 2008 edition pretty much sums it up: "Still Broken."

The New York Times editorializes this morning:

New York’s government is still a secretive, boss-driven, anti-democratic disgrace.... Legislative leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have had “a stranglehold on the flow of legislation at all stages of the legislative process.” Most members have little say. Committees are run like shadow puppet theaters. Details about legislation are hard for the public to get, unless they subscribe to a bill-drafting service for $2,250 a year.

After the jump, some bullet-pointed lowlights from the report...

  • In both chambers, but especially in the Assembly, leadership maintained a stranglehold on the flow of legislation at all stages of the legislative process.
  • Committee meetings were infrequent in both chambers and sparsely attended in the Senate, where members can vote without being physically present.
  • Most standing committees in both chambers failed to hold any hearings on major legislation.
  • There were no detailed committee reports attached to major bills in the Senate, and the Assembly rules do not require substantive reports to accompany bills reported out of committee.
  • Legislators introduced an extraordinary number of bills in both houses during each session, while only a small percentage received a floor vote.
  • 100% of the bills that leadership allowed to reach the floor of either chamber for a vote passed with almost no debate.
  • Senate records indicate that many of the bills that received a floor vote lacked critical and required information about their fiscal impact, usually passing the full chamber without any meaningful debate or dissent.
  • The use of conference committees to reconcile similar bills in each chamber remained the exceedingly rare exception, rather than the rule.
  • Member resources were distributed inequitably in both chambers on the basis of party, loyalty and seniority.
  • Much of the legislative process remains opaque; records are difficult to obtain without burdensome "freedom of information" requests, and key records of deliberation-such as "no" votes on procedural motions in the Senate-are not maintained.