EDITORIAL: Secret Senate decision-making group undermined | Opinion

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That’s where the once all-male leadership of the Senate and National Assembly met behind closed doors with the governor to hammer out state budgets and negotiate major legislation out of the earshot of citizens and rank-and-file lawmakers.

Whatever decisions the small handful of leaders make are passed on to their legislative subordinates, who are then expected to dutifully approve whatever comes out of those meetings, often without public debate or input or even the ability to read the information and to process.

Negotiating public matters in secret may be easier and less cumbersome than discussing such matters in a public setting, but it also goes against the concept of open government and defies the principle of government that is responsive to the people.

But Three Men in a Chamber (now technically Two Women and One Man) is not the only way New York’s political party leaders make important decisions on behalf of the rest of the legislative body and without public input or debate.

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New York Focus, an independent, nonprofit journalism group that covers the state capital, recently put a spotlight on a little-known, secretive group of Democratic senators who shuffle hundreds of bills and make decisions at the end of the annual legislative session meeting. session on which bills will be processed and which will be dropped.

The so-called Working Rules group is a select group of senators hand-picked by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​who meet behind closed doors toward the end of the legislative session and advise leadership on which bills to move forward. the Senate should be considered. .

According to Focus, not only is the public largely unaware of this group, but many lawmakers don’t even know the group exists, who its members are, and what bills they are considering.

The report found that some senators did not even know when their own legislative proposals were pending, only finding out when their bills came up for a vote.

According to the Focus report, the Working Rules group is not required to announce or broadcast its meetings, and the highly influential partisan group is barely mentioned when its recommendations are discussed at public committee meetings.

EDITORIAL: Change the standard for power disconnections

Defenders of the working group say that because few know of the group’s existence and don’t know when they meet or who its members are, this spares its members from having to face rank-and-file lawmakers, community groups, lobbyists, local elected officials and members of the public who could seek to provide their input on what ultimately becomes the final legislative agenda for the year.

By operating in secret, members of the working group can speak more freely about their feelings regarding legislation, without outside criticism.

And because so much power is consolidated in so few hands, members of this group have an unfair advantage over other lawmakers when it comes to passing their own favorite bills.

And that’s exactly how they want it.

But government isn’t about what’s easiest and most convenient for a handful of elected lawmakers. It’s about what’s best for the people.

And what is best for the people is that they and their elected representatives can play a role in decision-making, even if they may only observe the discussions, so that they know what is in the decisions, and know where their leaders stand . , and can offer criticism and input afterwards.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Lawmakers should show courage and pass an open government reporting law

Under the Open Meetings Act, when a quorum of a local government entity meets to transact the business of the public, the meeting must be advertised and open to the public. But in a practice we have long criticized, a loophole in the law allows officials to conduct business behind closed doors when it comes to a political meeting.

There, the majority party makes decisions in secret and presents its favored bills without legislative or public debate – in much the same way that this working group operates in the Senate.

If it’s not right for local officials to operate in this way, why is it okay for state lawmakers to operate in the same way — especially when the stakes of their decisions are often higher?

We’re sorry if Senators don’t want to be bothered by their fellow legislators and their constituents on issues.

We are sorry that they feel that they may face some criticism if they say what they really think in public.

And we’re sorry if they feel the need for a soft landing for decisions that may be unpopular or not in the best interests of the citizens.

But that’s the job. And if they can’t or don’t want to do it, they should leave it to someone else who can.

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EDITORIAL: Change the standard for power disconnections

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Lawmakers should show courage and pass an open government reporting law

The public does not trust a government that operates in secret. And there is no reason, even in the interests of expediency, that state legislatures should operate this way.

This is pure manipulation of the legislative system to consolidate power and push a specific agenda.

It’s time to bring this process out into the open where it belongs.