By State Senator George Onorato
The late financier J.P. Morgan once said that “the first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you’re not going to stay where you are.” In light of the fact that Democrats are now in the majority in the New York State Senate for the first time in 43 years, and given the efforts we are now undertaking to reform the operating rules of the Senate, it’s clear that Senate Democrats are taking those first steps to get away from where we have been and to create a more transparent and accountable state government for the people of New York State.
Just days into the 2009 legislative session, Senate Democrats proposed and adopted a series of rules reforms to improve the operations of the Senate and provide more openness in deliberations. These included actions to reverse old rules that limited the ability of senators to call for immediate action on bills being held in Senate committees, that squelched debate on legislation, and that denied the public an opportunity to see where their representatives stood on such efforts to bring bills to the Senate floor for a vote. In addition, we adopted new rules to permit all senators, regardless of party affiliation, the opportunity to co-sponsor legislation, and to bolster committee review of bills affecting more than one issue area. We will also seek to increase the use of technology to make the democratic process and legislative deliberations more accessible to all New Yorkers.
But above all, the Senate Democratic Conference proposed and adopted these rules changes in a very important context: that they are just the very beginning of reforms to help obliterate our State government’s reputation as the most dysfunctional in the nation. For the first time ever, the Senate rules will expire in one year, at the end of 2009, to allow for more reforms. And also for the first time, a bi-partisan Temporary Senate Committee on Rules and Administration Reform was established to hold public hearings, take testimony and devise new ways to improve the way the Senate does the people’s business. This nine-member
committee includes both Democratic and Republican senators – led by co-chairs of both political parties -- and is expected to report back to the Senate with its preliminary findings in April.
As one who has long sought institutional changes in the Senate -- and in state government as a whole -- that would more fully involve individual lawmakers and the public in vital budget and policy decisions affecting all of our lives, I am looking forward to taking additional steps to achieve these goals. With a tip of the hat to J.P. Morgan, we are definitely going to “get somewhere” in terms of government reform because we owe it to the people of New York State not to stay where we have been.