EDITORIAL: State lawmakers should get back to work

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That was a nice two-week vacation.

Now how about getting back to work and finishing what you didn’t get done during the first six months of the year?

State lawmakers left several important matters undone when they ended their annual legislative session on June 10.

Traditionally, the part-time legislators worked the first half of the year and spent the second half of the year in their local offices doing constituent service or campaigning for re-election. But lawmakers are no longer part-time, under the old definition. Yet they’re continuing to work under the old part-time schedule.

Given that they fought so long for a full-time pay standard — each state senator and Assembly member now makes a base salary of $110,000 a year, plus stipends for committee leadership positions and per-diem compensation — shouldn’t taxpayers expect them to legislate full-time?

It’s not like the need for government ended on June 10. Why should legislators end their session then?

In the past, wrangling all 200-something legislators and their staffs back to Albany for even a few days for a special session was a costly, logistical nightmare. But as the 15 months of the covid crisis demonstrated, lawmakers don’t necessarily have to be assembled in Albany to legislate.

The state government operated just fine when lawmakers conducted business remotely, online and through Zoom-type meetings. Why can’t they use that as a stepping stone for full-time legislating?

Among the issues they left undone during the session that they could be working on right now was fixing bail and discovery reform. Instead of waiting until January to address the issue, why can’t they be hammering out amendments to address the growing concerns of prosecutors and law enforcement?

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended the state’s covid state of emergency on Thursday, the ability of restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to-go also expired. To-go sales proved to be popular with citizens and helpful to businesses. Lawmakers should come back and reinstate it.

Lawmakers also didn’t pass a one-year window to allow certain adult victims of sex abuse bring civil action against their assailants. Is it right those individuals should have to wait at least another six months just for the legislation to be reintroduced? Come back now, work out the concerns and start the clock on justice.

Also left undone was whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Gov. Cuomo over allegations of workplace harassment. Get together in a virtual session and address it now.

With modern technology and full-time pay, there’s no reason state legislators can’t be negotiating and passing bills all year long.

The need for important legislation doesn’t end halfway through the year.

Neither should the Legislature’s work year.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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