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State Legislature is dysfunctional, Part 3

The Brennan Center For Justice has released an updated report on the dysfunction of the state Legislature. 

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.

And the winner is (sort of) ...

The thing about blogging is that it's one continuing experiment. One of the things I've been toying with are online reader polls. It's not going all that hot. Witness the vote on the favorite Outrage or Insight for 2008.

The blog post got enough views, probably a couple of thousand, but only 48 readers voted. Nothing to write home about, to say the least.

For what it's worth, the top vote getter, with a whopping nine tallies, was my post revealing that Tom Golisano's Responsible New York was behind the sliming of Sam Hoyt.

Coming in second, with seven votes, was my analysis of City's Hall 2008 budget that showed that far from being on firm financial footing, the Brown administration is intentionally making Buffalo more and more a ward of the state.

Maybe next year I'll hire Obama's campaign team to get out the vote ...

Carolyn, not Caroline

Look, I don't expect a Congressional member from Manhattan to know all the local ins-and-outs. But at times it was kind of painful listening to Carolyn Maloney during her visit to Buffalo today (Saturday) to raise the visibility of the non-campaign to succeed Hillary Clinton.

She spoke of the importance of the auto plant in To-wan-da.

Ah, Madame Congresswomen, it's Tonawanda. And yes, I realize it's a mouthful.

Then she mentioned a need to help the Buffalo Niagara Health Campus.

No, it's the Medical Campus.

Let's not forget that all-important priority, expanding the Peace Bridge from two to four lanes.

No, actually, the bridge already has three lanes and the issue is construction of a companion span.

Carolyn_maloney Maloney (pictured at left, shot at the downtown library today by Harry Scull) said she doesn't sense the locals necessarily want someone from upstate to succeed Hillary.

"The people I've spoken with are most concerned about what you can do to help the economy in Buffalo," she said.

Well, that's not exactly true, and if you want to make the case you're a downstater who gets it, well, perhaps you should brush up before you head this way.

To be fair, Maloney has some solid credentials, unlike Caroline Kennedy, which means she could get the Senate job, particularly if Gov. Paterson decides credentials are an important consideration - and celebrity is not.

No one less than the esteemed Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist with the best social consciousness of anyone in the business, said Maloney deserves serious consideration, asking the question in a recent column:

If Governor Paterson wants to replace Hillary Clinton with another woman, how about Carolyn rather than Caroline?

I'll also give Maloney credit for fielding questions from the public for some 90 minutes at a session at the downtown library sponsored by Be The Change New York. Unlike you know who, whose visit here was limited to private talks with politicians and incidental contact with reporters.

If you want to know more about Maloney, read this, this, this and this, just in from the New York Post.

And for the latest on you know who, go here and here.

Blogging the new year

I've been an avid newspaper reader since I was old enough to read. I grew up in a house where papers were everywhere. We subscribed to The Buffalo News and the Courier-Express. Every day my father brought home from work the New York Times and the New York Post (long before Murdoch got his hands on it). My family had a summer home in Canada, so the Toronto dailies, starting with the Toronto Star, were also staples.

I still read a lot of papers, The News, of course, and I subscribe to The Times, which I find indispensable. And I still pick up the Toronto papers on a regular basis.

But the past couple of years, I find myself reading blogs more than I do online editions of daily newspapers. A lot of them are focused on new media, while others deal with topics I cover. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites that cover the spectrum.

Politico has emerged as a leading source of national political news. RealClearPolitics provides a great index of political coverage. Political blogs published by the New York Daily News and Albany Times Union offer daily digests with links to state political news.

The Buffalo Pundit is the best local political blog. Other local blogs worth a look are Fix Buffalo Today, Niagara Times and Buffalo Rising. And I'm kind of partial to the University Heights Answer Lady.

AlterNet, which is actually a Web site with blogs, provides a good cross-section of left-of-center news and opinion. Sorry, I have no right-wing companion. My readers will be shocked - shocked! - at this.

I've raved before about Gristmill, the environmental blog. DotEarth from the Times is pretty good, too.

SeeThroughNY is great for looking up how the state spends your tax dollars.

AllTop is a really nifty site I recently discovered. Pick a topic and it will give you the most-recent posts from a range of online publications.

I haven't been a fan of Tina Brown, but I like what she's doing with her Daily Beast. Pretty innovative.

If you're interested in media, Jim Romenesko produces a daily digest that a lot of reporters read religiously, Newspaper Death Watch chronicles the demise of the industry and BuzzMachine points the way to the future. All highly recommended for those into such things.

Completely off point, fellow New York Yankee fans will enjoy Sliding Into Home. For hockey fans, Kukla's Korner provides a good daily digest of coverage and James Mirtle is the best of the hockey bloggers.

But enough from me. What are your favorites? I'm especially interested in blogs that make sense of the economic meltdown and bailout.

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