Going Through the Motions
Yesterday the legislative stars aligned - if only for a fleeting moment - as I was able to address the Senate about one of my bills. Currently, I have 16 active bills being considered by various committees, and have publicly addressed my Senate colleagues only once this session. It will also probably be the last time due to the rules that govern the New York State Senate.
Being a Democrat dooms my legislation before it is even conceived. Once a bill of mine gets introduced, it goes to committee where it waits for a vote. And waits. And waits. And waits.
No rule exists that requires committees to take vote on a piece of legislation. Thus, it is almost a certainty that Democratic bills will go through an entire legislative session without one minute of substantive public debate or discussion. Then they die.
There does exist one small opening, called a motion to petition, which allows me to bring a bill sitting in committee to a vote before the full Senate. If the full body votes to bring the bill out of committee, then it is introduced on the floor for another round of votes. It used to be that a Senator was given 5 minutes to speak on a motion. The Senate Majority, having adopted the barest minimum of the Brennan Center’s reform proposals, gave me 10 minutes before they killed my bill. Further debate is expressly prohibited by the Senate rules.
As expected, my motion was not carried. Every Republican voted along party lines. Actually, they didn’t even vote or go on the record. They just made sure to keep their hands down or conveniently step out of the chamber. Senate rules do not require attendance during a motion.
Two days ago, motions from my colleagues Senator Eric Schneiderman and Senator Liz Krueger, which I had the pleasure of cosponsoring, were similarly rejected. In fact, a Democratic bill has never been brought out of committee by a motion to petition. What is supposed to be a safety valve against domination by leadership, just helps to further cement that control.
It is a problem that good ideas are discarded in Albany simply because they do not come from the majority party. My bill would have helped to increase parental involvement in our schools, by providing translation services to parents with a limited command of English. It is a well-documented fact that children do much better in school when their parents are involved. Senator Schneiderman’s bill would have made it harder for criminals to get guns. Senator Krueger’s bill would have helped keep our environment clean, while promoting job growth here in New York State.
Education, safety, environmental protection and job creation are only a few of the big issues that affect people in every Senate district. Effectively silencing almost half of the Senate will not help us tackle these problems any quicker.
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