Editorial: Still time for lawmakers to make session memorable

Legislature has seven 7 working days
State Capitol Building in Albany.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
State Capitol Building in Albany.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Back in April, we gave state lawmakers a short list of things they needed to accomplish between the end of their long Easter break and the end of this year’s legislative session on June 21.

So far, with only seven working days left in the session, they’ve accomplished almost none of it.

Sure, they’ve checked off a few boxes on some easy stuff, like raising New York’s minimum marriage age from a ludicrous 14-years-old to 17. The only people who might have opposed this legislation were sex traffickers and child molesters, so changing the law was a no-brainer with no negative consequences.

And they did pass a bill that we and many citizens rights groups strongly supported that would award legal fees and court costs when a government agency frivolously denied a resident’s Freedom of Information Law request for public information. That’s a big deal, but only if the governor signs it.

But even then, they can’t get together on a bill that would make revenge porn a crime. That’s when someone, usually an ex-boyfriend, retaliates against another person, usually a woman, by posting sexually explicit photos of her on the internet without her consent. Believe it or not, that’s not a crime in New York, and it still might not be after June 21 if the Assembly doesn’t act.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg as to what should be done before all our legislators go home for the summer.

Even in the wake of a steady stream of reports detailing the cost-ineffectiveness of job-creation programs like Start-Up NY and the corruption allegations associated with projects like the Buffalo Billion, lawmakers are still stuck on passing reforms to the state’s economic development contracting process.

We editorialized in April that the Legislature should restore the state comptroller’s ability to provide independent oversight of state contract awards under the Procurement Integrity Act (A6355/S3984).

The bill would establish more controls over the process that allows state contracts to be awarded without a high-degree of scrutiny and transparency. It also would strengthen ethical requirements for vendors, purchasing agents and others. 

So far, the bill is still awaiting passage. Why wouldn’t a government want more oversight over contract awards if it was going to save taxpayers money, make the process more transparent and reduce the possibility of corruption? That’s a question you’ll have to ask state legislators.

Lawmakers also haven’t passed legislation to reduce or eliminate the practice of imposing mandates on local governments and school districts without providing adequate funding.

Last week, we suggested several pieces of legislation that would at least begin to alleviate the financial impact of these unfunded mandates on local taxpayers. So far, the bills are still in the wind.

Remember when lawmakers were going to reform the rules that allow government officials to accept big-money contributions from political donors, who skirt limits on campaign contributions to help influence legislation? 

What’s been done about such reforms since the Easter break? Nada.

There are still seven business days to go until the end of the session. (They’re only slated to be in session four days this week and three the next.) Will we see action this month? Or will lawmakers once again brush over the high-level corruption scandals that have embarrassed our state these many years by not passing legislation to reform their own processes? We’re guessing it’ll be the latter. But we can hope.

A bunch of counties are awaiting approval from the Legislature to extend their sales tax rates. If they don’t get the approvals by November, local governments will have to scramble to make up the lost revenue. Since it’s unusual for the Legislature to reconvene from June to November, these extenders have to be passed within the next 10 days.

After they passed the state budget in early April, many people in state government considered this session a success. They got through an initiative to provide free SUNY tuition for in-state students and they raised aid to school districts.

But if that’s all they got done, then they’ve got no reason to boast about this year’s accomplishments.

They still have a few days to make this session memorable.

Tackling some of these initiatives would go a long way toward making that memory a positive one — for a change.

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