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Sunshine weak in Albany: A predicted, the New York Legislature does nothing to advance open government

Last month, the leaders of eight New York good government groups very politely asked the Legislature to pass seven worthy bills increasing transparency for the annual Sunshine Week, which ends today. In fact, during the week the state Senate and the Assembly did adopt or advance to the floor calendar more than seven open government bills, but not one of them in both chambers, and as everyone knows, you need two to tango and enact a law.

Reinvent Albany, BetaNYC, Citizens Union, Common Cause, the Empire Center for Public Policy, the League of Women Voters, the New York News Publishers Association and the New York Public Interest Research Group, having watched the secrecy and backroom dealings at work for years, were right to hope but can’t be surprised by the dismal weather for Sunshine Week in Albany. And we’re not talking about the snowstorm that struck the region.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie even put out a press release that his body “Passes Legislative Package in Honor of National Sunshine Week.” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins wasn’t as transparently insincere as Heastie and refrained from a press release, but her chamber did approve a number of pieces of transparency legislation, several of them unanimously. The only aspect that matched in the Assembly and Senate lists of the bills were that none of the bills had a companion in the other house.

The watchdogs, having seen this Sunshine Week dance before, had specifically requested that the Assembly and Senate use the week dedicated to open government in honor of James Madison’s birthday to jointly pass the bills.

It’s not as though Democrats Heastie and Stewart-Cousins can’t coordinate their houses to act in tandem if they want to, even for highly unpopular legislation. They held a special session three days before Christmas to jointly approve a $32,000 pay hike that in a state of 20 million people, only the 213 legislators wanted. Yet, in making their own doings more open to the public that pays the bills (and their new, highest-in-the-nation $142,000 salaries) they just can’t agree.

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