It took all of three days for Assembly Democrats to show that the status quo still reigns in the New York State Legislature. The convictions of two former legislative leaders inspired endless promises of change for 2016. But when presented this week with the opportunity to take a positive step, Democrats stole defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Sheldon Silver – the face of Assembly Democrats for more than 20 years – is likely headed to jail on corruption crimes. Mr. Silver might be comforted to know that his former colleagues in the Democratic Conference are continuing to preserve the dysfunctional system he helped establish and from which he profited greatly.
A COLLECTIVE REJECTION OF REFORM
On Tuesday, Assembly Republicans introduced a series of rules reforms to help clear the cloud of corruption that still hangs over the Capitol. The proposals, which were also introduced in 2015, create greater transparency in the Assembly, empower rank-and-file members, and facilitate better constituent representation. These are critical changes which include:
- implementing 8-year term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs;
- televising, recording and making committee meetings available online;
- allowing each Assembly member to have one bill brought to the floor every two years;
- curtailing the use of last-minute messages of necessity, requiring two-thirds of the members of the Assembly to approve the message; and
- requiring any bill sponsored by 76 members or more be brought to the floor.
Assembly Democrats voted against each measure. Their collective rejection of reform stands in stark contrast to comments made by Speaker Carl Heastie, who said recently “the Assembly is serious about ethics reform and we know that words are not enough.” He also stated that the Assembly “has always supported measures to bring more transparency and accountability to state government.” Once again, Assembly Democrats highlight the tremendous difference between action and words.
ALBANY’S MOST WORTHLESS WORKGROUP
This was the second time Assembly Democrats have voted against rules reforms – they also did so last March. In April, Speaker Heastie created a reform “workgroup” charged with developing and recommending changes to the way the Assembly operates. Republicans were not invited to participate. The “workgroup” has not held public meetings or disclosed a list of proposals. In 10 months, the Assembly Democrats have produced absolutely nothing but wasted time.
Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle spoke on the floor to express his objection to our reforms by defending the principles of “majority rule” and suggesting that our resolutions were “undemocratic.” There is no shortage of irony here.
Mr. Morelle has been the lead sponsor on legislation to legalize Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in New York. Despite having more than 70 sponsors, despite bipartisan support, despite passage in the state Senate and despite his status as the number-two Democrat in the Assembly, Mr. Morelle’s MMA bill has gone nowhere. That’s not how government should work.
One might think that Mr. Morelle should be in favor of reforms that help him, help get his MMA bill off a shelf, and help the constituents he represents. But this is Albany, and another example of politics coming before good public policy.
As a Conference, we have been unwavering in our fight to implement meaningful ethics reforms and restore the public trust.
In the State Assembly, we are the only ones fighting.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at email@example.com, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.