- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Half the New York Legislature, long known for backroom dealing and leadership control, plans to post online the details of how it does business and also let every legislator get recorded committee votes on their priority bills.

The Assembly’s Democratic majority said this week it will install the new procedures to make the chamber more efficient, while making its operations more open through a more comprehensive online public portal. That follows the switch last year to computer tablets on lawmakers’ desks, replacing stacks of paper bills and resolutions.

Speaker Carl Heastie said rules will be revised with the changes recommended by a working group of Democratic legislators phased in. The current legislative session ends in June. Most changes are expected next year.

“The people deserve transparency, diligence and the highest standard of ethical behavior,” said Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Bronx Democrat in his first term. He was one of a dozen legislators in the working group.

Recommendations include building a comprehensive free online portal where the public can promptly see documents and records about legislation at each step of the process, including support and opposition memos, committee and amendment votes, written testimony and expenditure reporting. Basic information about legislation and its status, as well as broadcasts of floor sessions, is already available on the Assembly and Senate websites.

In any two-year legislative session, bills that advanced but weren’t enacted the first year wouldn’t have to start again the second year under the Assembly plan. All legislators would have the right to have up to five priority bills up for committee votes in the first year, with an unlimited number the second year.

Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb said those changes may help build a better website but don’t do enough to rebuild public trust. Members will remain unable to bring legislation to the floor even if they have 76 sponsors, a majority, and there are still no term limits for leaders and committee chairman, he said.

Assemblyman James Tedisco, a Schenectady County Republican, said it still leaves “unbridled power” with the speaker and leaders of the Democratic Conference.

Last year, the former Assembly and Senate leaders were each convicted in federal court of peddling their substantial influence.

In January, Assembly Democrats voted down six Republican proposals including term limits and a guarantee each lawmaker could bring at least one bill to the Assembly floor. This week, the chamber voted 137-4 for ethics legislation to limit members’ outside income to about $70,000 annually and to treat limited liability companies like other businesses that can give a candidate only $5,000 a year.

The Republican-controlled state Senate has established eight-year term limits for its leadership positions and voted to do it by law in both houses.

“Unlike the Assembly, we lived up to the agreement on pension forfeiture and have already passed legislation to enact term limits for legislative leaders,” spokesman Scott Reif said. “These are significant reforms that show Senate Republicans are serious about restoring the public trust.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Rochester Democrat, said that chamber this year will vote on a constitutional amendment to strip pensions of officials convicted of corruption.

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