Lawmakers call for “NYS Government Transparency Act” to stop abuse of messages of necessity and prevent secret government from keeping public in the dark
Senator Greg Ball (R,C,I-Patterson) and Assembly Members Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Glenville), Steve McLaughlin (R,C,I-Melrose), and Tony Jordan (R,I,C-Jackson) and several of their colleagues today are responding to the Governor’s habit of foregoing public debate and rushing through legislation in the dark of the night by calling for the “NYS Government Transparency Act” to stop the abuse of “messages of necessity” and prevent secret government from keeping many legislators, the public and media in the dark when significant legislation is being voted on.
The recent use of a message of necessity by the Governor to push through the NY SAFE Act has drawn debate, not just on the merits of the bill, but for the process of passing such sweeping legislation with no public input. This is just the most recent example of a dangerous trend by a NYS executive pushing messages of necessity on serious policy initiatives to avoid public scrutiny and the legislative check that a representative democracy demands.
Last year, transparency was also absent from legislative proceedings as the legislature passed, and the governor approved, major legislation that affects every person in the state – all under the cover of darkness. While most people slept, the legislature passed a series of important bills that dealt with redistricting, casino gambling, expanding the DNA database, pension reform, and teacher evaluations.
Currently, the state Constitution requires bills to “age” three days so legislators and the public have an opportunity to review them. Three weeks ago, and in many previous instances when important policies or a budget is voted on, governors will issue “messages of necessity” to circumvent the three-day rule and push through major legislation without giving lawmakers and New Yorkers much time to read the bills. Although not unique to this executive, Governor Cuomo promised he’d have the most open and transparent administration in the history of New York. Regardless of which governor used the tool more, it’s time to change this trend. Senator Ball and Assembly Members Tedisco, McLaughlin and Jordan and several of their colleagues who are sponsoring this legislation, have a plan to help Gov. Cuomo accomplish that goal.
Ball, Tedisco, McLaughlin and Jordan’s “NYS Government Transparency Act” (S.3498) constitutional amendment would stop the clock on all legislative proceedings between midnight and 8 a.m. and limit messages of necessity except in the case of genuine emergencies such as a security threat, natural disaster or dire fiscal situation. The bill requires a two-thirds majority vote to take up any message of necessity.
“The last minute push on the NYSAFE act, in the middle of the night without critical public input from law enforcement, sportsmen and taxpayers was outrageous and forced members to vote on a bill that was pathetically flawed. We are now seeing errors in the legislation that would have been corrected if the bill had time to age,” said Ball. “The only necessity addressed that night was the political life of a Governor that wants to run for President, and we should point to this last minute push as an example of abuse of power and dysfunctional government.”
“I believe the Founding Fathers had it right when they developed the three separate branches of government to be a check on each other. What occurred with the NYSAFE Act was not a message of necessity but a message of political expediency carried out not in daylight but under the cover of darkness without public input. As I’ve often noted, I once heard the renowned investigative reporter, Bob Woodward, say that the greatest threat to our democracy is ‘secret government’ because in darkness democracy dies. And if the Governor and Leaders think that working in darkness is so good for New York then why don’t they hold their press conferences at 3 a.m.?” said Tedisco.
“The Governor and legislative leaders have once again abused their message of necessity power to force a vote on a Constitutional-threatening piece of legislation, without giving lawmakers and New Yorkers a respectful amount of time to read and digest the bill,” said McLaughlin. “We fought tooth-and-nail last year to stop the message of necessities for the state budget, and for the first time in recent memory, we gave respect to the budget and did not rush a vote. Now, the Governor and legislative leaders have taken two-steps back and used the message of necessity in fear of scrutiny. I think the law-abiding citizens of New York are giving our state government leaders scrutiny now for a bad bill and an even worse process in passing it. For the sake of the taxpayers to have faith in their state government, it’s time to pass the New York State Government Transparency Act this session.”
“When government disregards transparency and openness it allows self-serving politicians to abuse power, limit individual rights and freedoms and squander taxpayer dollars,” said Jordan. “Our NYS Government Transparency Act will end the practice of ramming bills through the legislature and outlaw passage of any legislation under cover of night ensuring accountability to the public.”