Brennan Center: Albany’s “Still Broken”


NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice just published an update of the famous 2004 report that described in excruciatingly precise detail just how deeply lousy New York State government has become. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet but the title of the 2008 edition pretty much sums it up: "Still Broken."

The New York Times editorializes this morning:

New York’s government is still a secretive, boss-driven,
anti-democratic disgrace…. Legislative leaders, especially Assembly Speaker Sheldon
Silver, have had “a stranglehold on the flow of legislation at all
stages of the legislative process.” Most members have little say. Committees are run like shadow puppet theaters. Details about
legislation are hard for the public to get, unless they subscribe to a
bill-drafting service for $2,250 a year.

After the jump, some bullet-pointed lowlights from the report

  • In both chambers, but especially in
    the Assembly, leadership maintained a stranglehold on the flow of
    legislation at all stages of the legislative process.
  • Committee meetings were infrequent in
    both chambers and sparsely attended in the Senate, where members can
    vote without being physically present.
  • Most standing committees in both chambers failed to hold any hearings on major legislation.
  • There were no detailed committee
    reports attached to major bills in the Senate, and the Assembly rules
    do not require substantive reports to accompany bills reported out of
  • Legislators introduced an
    extraordinary number of bills in both houses during each session, while
    only a small percentage received a floor vote.
  • 100% of the bills that leadership allowed to reach the floor of either chamber for a vote passed with almost no debate.
  • Senate records indicate that many of
    the bills that received a floor vote lacked critical and required
    information about their fiscal impact, usually passing the full chamber
    without any meaningful debate or dissent.
  • The use of conference committees to
    reconcile similar bills in each chamber remained the exceedingly rare
    exception, rather than the rule.
  • Member resources were distributed inequitably in both chambers on the basis of party, loyalty and seniority.
  • Much of the legislative process
    remains opaque; records are difficult to obtain without burdensome
    "freedom of information" requests, and key records of deliberation-such
    as "no" votes on procedural motions in the Senate-are not maintained.