Another Try at Senate Rules Reform

George Winner

June 04, 2009

Albany, N.Y.–State Senator George Winner (R-C-I, Elmira), a member of the state Senate’s newly created Committee on Rules and Administration, called again today for the approval of a series of actions he and his colleagues first offered earlier this year to change the way the Senate does business.

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While the state Senate Democratic majority has been quick to praise a set of rules changes it recommended for full Senate consideration several weeks ago, Winner cautioned that those changes don’t go far enough.

The number one goal this session was for the Senate to show the way in building a new house of cooperative action in Albany.  The new majority proudly offered itself as Albany’s number one agent of change, but it's been far from it,” said Winner, who remains especially critical, along with many good government advocates, of the process that led to the adoption of the 2009-2010 state budget.

“The budget adoption process was a disgrace to open government.  It was a dead-end process for too many, mostly upstate New York taxpayers, workers, employers, families, and communities,” Winner said.  “So there's plenty of work left to do to open up the legislative process to greater public scrutiny, accountability and effectiveness, but the sand's just about run out of the hourglass this session.”

Winner joined his colleagues today to call for the adoption of numerous reform recommendations, including initiatives to:  

--  establish a clear process to bring legislation to a vote on the Senate floor.  Senate Republicans want either a mandatory vote once a bill reaches the floor for debate or the ability to automatically force a floor vote if a simple majority of senators, 51 percent, sign a petition;

-- ban the practice of allowing controversial legislation to be sponsored by the “Senate Rules Committee” as opposed to an individual legislator;

-- ban the Senate Majority Leader  from participating in secret policy or budget negotiations with the governor and Assembly Speaker, the so-called “three men in a room” practice so widely criticized by government reform advocates; and

-- require that any measure imposing a new local mandate or tax increase be listed on a separate mandate and tax calendar prior to legislative action.

Other reforms being proposed by Senate Republicans include a six-year term limit for the Majority Leader; eight-year term limits for all committee chairs and ranking members; the creation of a bipartisan Independent Budget Office; and the posting of online voting records for individual legislators.

Winner is one of three Republicans on the nine-member Committee on Rules and Administration, a bipartisan panel convened earlier this year to recommend long-term reforms to the Senate’s rules and procedures.