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ALBANY - A month after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conviction on corruption charges, Assembly Republicans on Tuesday tried a parliamentary maneuver to weaken Albany’s rules that assure absolute control by the Democratic majority party over legislation. But the effort was soundly rejected by Democrats.
Assemb. Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), the minority leader, proposed 13 changes to the chamber’s rules that would allow any member — Democrat or Republican — to get at least one substantive bill to the floor each year for debate and vote. Currently, Assembly Republicans and Democrats in the Senate’s minority can’t force a bill to the floor for debate unless the majority party approves. Kolb said that disenfranchises millions of voters.
Kolb also took aim at the “three-men-in-a-room” negotiations behind closed doors by the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader, but which excludes Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats.
“Where is this in our history books?” Kolb asked.
The Republican effort, as similar past efforts, failed to draw more than a few of the critical Democratic votes needed to pass the resolutions. But the Republicans this legislative election year wanted to pressure the Democratic majority, which hopes to put the Sheldon Silver scandal behind them this year.
Last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said he doesn’t plan to change the rules of how the 150-member chamber operates. He said majority rule is a basic element of democracy. Heastie defined that as meaning the Democratic majority must agree as a whole to bring any bills to the floor. That means even bills with 76 sponsors among Democrats and Republicans aren’t enough to bring them to the floor even though 76 votes would pass the legislation.
“What an offensive statement to make about our democracy,” Kolb said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Kolb said he also would push Heastie to invite U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to Albany to discuss ethics in government. Bharara has prosecuted several legislators for corruption including Silver, the former Speaker, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Each were convicted in separate trials last month.
A spokesman for Bharara said they hadn’t been invited. Kolb said that if Heastie doesn’t invite the prosecutor to speak to the entire Assembly, he would invite Bharara to speak to the Republican conference. Earlier this month, Bharara spoke at the annual ethics training session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
Ethics reform is expected to be a significant part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State and budget address on Wednesday, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. He and other good-government advocates met with top Cuomo aides Tuesday.