January 25, 2005

Senator Seward backs legislative reform, sort of

Only two months after bluntly defending the practice of empty-seat voting, State Senator James Seward is trumpeting its purported elimination on his web site.

No one other than the Senate's Republican Majority seems terribly impressed with the reforms passed yesterday. The Ithaca Journal doesn't seem to have reported on it. The Gannett story, available in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, notes that:

For instance, the Republican-led Senate didn't make it easier for those in the political minority to bring bills to the floor for a vote. Also, Democrats long-standing protests about grossly smaller staffs and office budgets were ignored.

Even the breakthrough on "empty-seat voting" was a partial one. Previously, once a legislator checked in for the day, he was counted as voting "yes" on every measure whether he is in his seat or not, unless he is there to vote "no." Now, senators will have to be in their seats to vote on the bills in the "controversial calendar" or those bills slated for debate. The rules won't change for voting on routine bills.

As NYCO's blog notes, the poor Senate majority "had to suffer through close to four hours of debate as Democrats alleged all manner of slights and unfairness." Democrats even proposed eight amendments to the reforms, but in classic Senate style they didn't even reach the floor of the Senate - "the Republicans who control the chamber shot them all down before they even made it to the floor for a full vote."

Maybe things have changed a little - NYCO's earlier comment that "Publicly pretending to reform is a big first step toward actual reform," gives me a bit of hope that things will continue to change for the better.

The Republicans' lack of interest in the project is especially odd, though, given their tenuous hold on the Senate, kept in place against demographic change in the state only by the severest of gerrymandering. (The T-bone steak-shaped map of Seward's district provides a good demonstration of that!) Given the potential of their losing hold of the chamber, I'd expect them to show more interest in ensuring that minority lawmakers have a voice.

Oh well. Time to think of what lovely reform issue to write our legislators about next. Both the Senate and the Assembly did address a few pieces around the edges this month, so maybe writing does have some effect.

Posted by simon at January 25, 2005 12:29 PM in
Note on photos