What the state Legislature calls a “special session,” the rest of us call “going to work.”
Apparently, some leaders in Albany want the Legislature to convene a three-day special session before the end of the year to deal with a host of issues.
Among the items Gov. Andrew Cuomo would like legislators to consider are passing tougher hate-crime legislation in the wake of Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency, more money for the homeless, reforming the states’ contracting process in the wake of recent scandals, and legislative ethics reforms that might include creating a full-time legislature and imposing term limits.
Now, one might wonder, why do they suddenly need to come in and deal with all this important, complex stuff in less than a week, when they’ve had all year to do it and when they’ve got a brand new six-month session starting on Jan. 4? The answer is: They don’t.
None of those issues alone would be enough to draw our devoted legislators back to Albany for an inconvenient, rushed special session.
The reason they would come back the week before Christmas (or the week after) would be to sneak through a pay raise for themselves, hoping the voters would be sufficiently distracted by their last-minute Christmas shopping and holiday planning.
To soften the blow, they might concede to some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s negotiating points on ethics reforms. But most likely, any “reforms” they pass would be for show — so tepid as to be largely ineffective. But at least they could say they passed something, and they wouldn’t have to deal with the issue next year.
If lawmakers truly want to address the issues being considered, they will take their time and consider them during the regular session, not during a half-cocked special session .
The real test of their sincerity will come next year when they decide if and how to address these issues.
Certainly, a pay hike, term limits, limiting outside income and creating a full-time legislature should be on the table come January. But do it right and take your time. These topics should be subject to open public debate, legislative hearings and opportunities for public comment.
Reforming the state’s contracting process, particularly as it pertains to economic development projects like those that led to recent high-profile arrests, is not something lawmakers want to rush through, either.
It’s a complex issue that would involve limiting people’s contact with government, creating a more thorough vetting process for contractors, establishing oversight and making a largely secretive process more transparent. It needs to be done deliberatively, not at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the Thursday before Christmas.
Hate crime legislation? Donald Trump doesn’t take office until Jan. 20. It could be a few days before he starts building Mexican internment camps and compiling his list of Muslims Who are Probably Also Terrorists. Lawmakers could pass additional necessary protections in a day
More money for the homeless and other needs should be addressed through the budget process. If there’s a funding emergency, they can pass it right when they come back.
None of the issues being discussed for a special session are so pressing that they must be crammed into three or four stressful days that could result in less-than-quality work. And none justify the expense to taxpayers of bringing back 200-plus legislators and their staffs for work they’ll be doing in three weeks anyway.
Come back in January, take your time, and do the job right.