Several organizations rate the New York State Legislature. NYC ADA’s ratings embrace a range of progressive issues rather than being narrowly focused. We prepare and update sporadically a Legislative Agenda to alert members of both houses of our specific views on these issues.
ADA understands and appreciates the power of the “three men in a room” – the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader and the Governor – and the central role they play in determining which bills pass.
However, our ratings are determined largely by which bills do not become laws! We assess the more than 2,000+ publicly recorded votes, identify those which reflect the liberal values in which we believe, select specific issues where there is a minority of at least 10 votes, and, thereby, compile a liberal quotient of the Legislature’s members.
We are not interested in unanimous or near unanimous votes. The votes cover a full spectrum of economic, environmental and social issues. We are interested in those votes which reveal a principled difference – where members vote their beliefs and respond to the interests and needs of their constituents. That being said, often the votes tell us very little. The “fast” roll call ended in 2004. Up until then, anyone who did not vote “no” was recorded as voting “yes.” However, we count every absence as a vote against the ADA position. Finally, an effort is made to choose procedural votes: amendments, motions to table, or votes on the rules for debate. These votes can reveal true attitudes obscured in the final votes.
What is very evident is the abiding control the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly wields over his party members and the concomitant control the Republican Majority Leader of the Senate exercises over his party’s adherents.
Despite small gains, the indictment of the Brennan Center for Justice in its 2004 report, The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform that the Legislature is dysfunctional, ranking among the worst in the nation, still holds. The emergence of a new governor – replacing the governor elected in 2006 – provides an opportunity for change.
We can only wait and see!