August 22, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v1)

Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times 
It's been awhile since I've looked at Albany in the pages of veritable pastiche.

I tried to get excited about the legislative session that ended back back in mid-June, I really did. As is usually the case, the end of session is a jam-packed, fun-filled time. In the first twelve days of June alone, there were nearly 700 bills introduced or amended, some more than once, according to this article. And of course, the end-of-session is where the rubber meets the road. As the article notes:
This is crunch time, when the power reputations of lobbyists and special interest groups are put to the test, and when rank-and-file lawmakers face a traffic jam to get their pet bills onto the floor, where legislation is rarely defeated. 
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

Some things did get accomplished this session. There were some changes made to breast cancer screening practices, including more user-friendly hours, time off from work, and some insurance changes. There was increased focus on the opioid epidemic, and some opportunity for stripping ethically challenged legislators of their pensions, assuming the legislature approves it again in the 2017 session, and then New Yorkers will have the chance to vote on it -- in 2018.

We can serve alcohol earlier on Sundays, helpful to restaurants that are in the brunch business and for sports bars that carry European events which sometimes are shown live here at 8AM. And daily sports betting has been determined to be a game of skill instead of a fool's errand, so we're going to be back in business there, barring a successful legal challenge.

And, we got a very complicated process for increasing the minimum wage, over a period of years, to something that more closely resembles the 'living wage' we've heard so much about during the presidential campaign.

So, why does this all leave me and so many other New Yorkers less than thrilled with our state legislature?

The NY Legislative calendar (matching versions are published by the Senate and Assembly) reflects that, from the early January through the end of May, there are 48 session days and 8 days of 'legislative activity/budget hearings.'  Add in the nine days scheduled for June, and you've got a total of 65 days during which our part-time representatives, who are all paid at least $79K annually (plus a per diem for each day they travel) are officially at work in Albany doing the people's business. Or waiting to do the people's business, as the case may be. And fundraising.

According to the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) in a June 3rd press release, there were at least 167 'out of district' fundraisers by State Senators, State Assembly members, and by their respective committees. About a third of them were held at the Fort Orange Club, which must be a pretty special place to get all of that business.

I don't know if anyone keeps track of the other fundraisers that are held within the districts to help raise the necessary cash to run for re-election; these at least would seem on the surface to be OK, since the legislators would be asking for support directly from the people they represent.

They do more than fundraising and attend a few sessions from January to June. There's 'constituent service' that keeps these folks and their staff busy at least some of the time when they're not on the clock in Albany. There are ribbon to cut and signs to unveil, and those ever-present banners to unfurl - you know, the ones thanking them for "bringing home our tax dollars" in support of events and festivals for us, and stuff like that.

I get that the job doesn't have regular hours. My mother was a member of her local town board for one term, and I know she took some calls 'off-hours' but it was hardly a 24/7 job, and I don't think being a state legislator is one, either. But with no required accounting of the work these folks do, it's hard to get a sense of how much time they actually put in as legislators.

So now, hearing that our part-timer lawmakers might be in for a big fat pay raise, and a possibly a designation as full-time legislators, I have to scratch my head. I just have to scratch my head.

I'll try and take an objective look at the pay raise issue in my next post. No promises, but I'll do my best.