Assemblyman Marc Butler wrote a really good article last year about reform needed in the New York State Assembly specifically in the area of Assembly committees.
The Assembly Majority wields strong control over the committees where legislation is vetted. In those committees, bills are either released to come to the floor for a vote, or, as is often the case with legislation sponsored by the Assembly Minority, the bills never leave the committee. We have a term for this practice – killing a bill.
I (Jolyn) saw “killing a bill’ in committee in action when I went to Albany on June 3, 2014 in support of the first bill to halt Common Core A8844-2013. I stood with 15-20 other parents squeezed around the edges of the committee room as the assembly majority voted to ‘hold’ the bill and prevent the full assembly from discussing and voting on the Common Core issue. The majority legislators would not even look at us as they voted against the children.
This week [week of April 20, 2015], numerous bills were killed, and it happened to much-needed legislation. The Committee on Education met and the Assembly Majority refused to release an education reform bill [A3656] that would have put a moratorium on high-stakes Common Core testing. Three bills that would have bolstered Second Amendment rights by repealing all or portions of the governor’s so-called SAFE Act also were killed in committee. Additional legislation that would have increased the safety of our communities from sex offenders and child predators also was stopped in its tracks.
The Halt Common Core bill was reintroduced in the 2014-2015 legislative session as A3656 and the education committee killed it again! Parents did not hear that the bill was on the assembly education committee agenda before the vote so no one was there to see how the vote went. This committee vote occurred just after more than 200,000 parents/students REFUSED the New York State ELA test on April 14-16, 2015. A bill that would not only help students but strived to fix the problems experienced by students suffering under the burden of high-stakes testing and Common Core was killed because it wore the wrong party label!
This important part of the legislative process is never seen by the public. Elected officials can hide behind the fact that these meetings, although open to the public, are difficult to attend. Many people are unaware they can attend these meetings. I would venture to say very few. Additionally, legislators’ votes in these committee meetings are never made public. Being cloistered away without having to answer to the people allows the Majority to say one thing but never follow through.
I still advocate for the changes I proposed in the past – that committee meetings be recorded and made available online and all votes be recorded and made public. Making these simple changes would mean more legislation could reach the floor of the Assembly for a vote.
NYS Senate committee meetings and the votes are recorded or at least some of them are since I saw a recording of the June 2, 2015 Senate education committee meeting. NYS Assembly committee meetings should also be recorded and the voting made public.
The committees need to stop suppressing/rejecting legislation just because it is written by the ‘other party’ but if that can’t be achieved, the Spirit of ’76 bill would give legislators outside the committee a way to influence legislation and get bills onto the floor for a vote if they can garner the support of a majority of the rank-and-file legislators.
Assemblyman Butler recently wrote about his support of the Spirt of ’76 bill:
The structure of the Legislature allows leaders to wield a great amount of power over which legislation can come to the floor for a vote. If legislation does not fit the agenda of the majority, despite popular support, it will never see the light of day – this must change,” said Butler. “There has been an outpouring from the public – they want reform, they want a state government that is more democratic, less about partisan politics and more about the people. Passing the Spirit of ’76 legislation will help us get that much closer to the government the people deserve.