A landmark study released in 2004 detailed the problem in depressing detail, and a follow-up report in 2006 found insufficient progress. The title of the just-released update sums up the current state of the Legislature: "Still Broken."
I'm working on a story for the print edition that will run later in the week, but wanted to share a couple of the "lowlights" in the meantime. The report's authors said changes enacted over the the past four years were "a good start" but were "by no means transformative."
Continued the report:
The Legislature failed to adopt a comprehensive set of new rules that incorporated the Brennan Center’s recommendations for making the legislative process more robust and democratic. Of the changes that the legislature did adopt, some, quite cynically, codified the status quo in new ways. The continued presence of these rules stifles rigorous deliberation and debate and hobbles the sincere efforts of a number of rank-and-file legislators to represent the best interests of their constituents and the state as a whole.
In 2006 and 2007, most standing committees met infrequently or not at all. There were almost no hearings on major legislation. Not a single major bill was the subject of a detailed committee report. Leadership maintained near total control over what bills reached the floor. And on the floor, there was little substantive debate; every bill brought to the floor for a vote in either chamber passed.
The Brennan report is loaded with outrageous examples of how the Legislature conducts its business. Here is maybe the best whopper.
The Senate Ethics Committee, which was noted in the 2006 Report for not meeting at all in 2005 or 2006, hasn’t held a meeting—on major legislation or otherwise—during the period covered in this report and in 2008. In fact, the Senate’s ethics committee has not met in over a decade, while the Assembly’s committee has met infrequently over that same period. Despite this fact, the two ethics committee chairs each earn an extra $12,500 annually for their titles.
The chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, by the way, is Andrew Lanza, a Republican representing Staten Island. The chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee is William Magnarelli, a Democrat who represents portions of Onondaga and Oswego counties north and south of Syracuse.
Stay tuned. More to come, in print and here on this blog.