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NYS Legislature Approves Historic Low Number of Bills

Governor Cuomo has touted the recently concluded legislative session as “one of the most successful in modern political history”.  As Karen DeWitt reports, the session also made history in another way. It featured the fewest bills passed by both houses in nearly one hundred years.  Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt reports…  

According to an analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group, the 2012 session resulted in 571 pieces of legislation approved by both houses of the legislature.  

NYPIRG’s Bill Mahoney counted the number of bills introduced and passed in the Assembly and Senate for the past several decades, and found that’s the lowest number since 1914, 98 years ago.

“It puts a new spin on some of the talk we’ve heard about how this is a historic year for the State legislature,” Mahoney said.  

Mahoney has mixed feelings about the numbers.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “There are a lot of bills that pass the legislature every year that most people don’t think are very good.”

NYPIRG lobbies for government reform, and Mahoney says he would have been happier if only 570 bills were agreed to this session.  He would have preferred not to seen a redistricting bill passed in March that drew what critics said were gerrymandered lines for Senate and Assembly districts. At the same time, he says, lawmakers did not approve a number of environmental measures that his group was pressing. And Neither the governor nor lawmakers addressed  campaign finance reform with legislation, even though Cuomo listed it as a priority in his State of the State message.

It’s hard to judge whether the number of bills approved corresponds with the quality of the legislation. But Mahoney says his analysis found some clues that may explain why the agreed upon number of bills was smaller.

Governor Cuomo issued fewer program bills than his predecessors. A governor’s views on a particular piece of legislation often drives the negotiations with the legislature.  

“He did have a higher success rate in terms of getting them passed,” Mahoney said. “But there were fewer issues put out for the legislature for debate.”

Cuomo, who has been a dominant force in leading the legislature to agreements in the first two years of his term, has preferred to focus more closely on a smaller number of issues.

The governor also refused at the end of session to issue special messages of necessity to by pass the legal three day waiting period for bills after they are introduced and before they can be taken up on the floor.  Mahoney says that also may have contributed to the smaller number of agreements in the final days of the session.

And, in recent years, there’s been a trend toward fewer bills passed in the session, while at the same time state budget bills have grown by hundreds of pages and often include changes that used to be accomplished in a separate statute.  

One activity that has not diminished, says Mahoney, is the adoption of thousands of resolutions, over 3600.  

“Ranging from honoring someone who became an Eagle Scout to congratulating the world’s oldest barber,” Mahoney said.

Many resolutions are approved in around 10 seconds, sometimes lawmakers spend more time, if it’s to honor an important person or occasion, or to mark a death. And Mahoney says on many days more resolutions were passed than bills.

Lawmakers receive food and lodging expenses every day that they are in Albany.

The legislator who got the most bills  passed in both chambers during the two year 2011- 2012 session is Senator Kathy Young, a Republican from Olean, with 56 bills. The lawmaker, who introduced the most bills out of a total of over 12,000 bills proposed, was former Brooklyn Senator Karl Krueger, a Democrat who resigned after pleading guilty to felony corruption charges.  

Lawmakers still have a chance to improve their record. They could return later in the year and agree on more bills. Most legislators expect to be back, likely after the fall elections, and there’s been talk of a special session that might include a pay raise. That would up their record to at least 572 agreed upon bills for 2012.

In Albany, I’m Karen DeWitt.


Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.