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Senate Dems working hard to change state government

The late financier J.P. Morgan once said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” In light of the fact that Democrats are in the majority in the state Senate for the first time in 43 years, and given the efforts we are undertaking to reform Senate operating rules, Senate Democrats are taking those first steps to get away from where we have been to create a transparent and an accountable state government.

Days into the 2009 legislative session, Senate Democrats proposed and adopted a series of rules reforms to improve Senate operations and provide more openness in deliberations. These included actions to reverse old rules that limited the ability of senators to call for immediate action on bills being held in Senate committees, squelched debate on legislation and denied the public an opportunity to see where their representatives stood on such efforts to bring bills to the Senate floor for a vote.

In addition, we adopted new rules to permit all senators the opportunity to co−sponsor legislation and bolster committee review of bills affecting more than one issue area. We will also seek to increase the use of technology to make the democratic process and legislative deliberations more accessible to all New Yorkers.

Above all, the Senate Democratic Conference proposed and adopted these rules changes in the context that they are just the beginning of reforms to help obliterate our state government’s reputation as the nation’s most dysfunctional.

For the first time, the Senate rules will expire at the end of 2009 to allow for more reforms. Also for the first time, a bi−partisan Temporary Senate Committee on Rules and Administration Reform was established to hold public hearings, take testimony and devise new ways to improve the way the Senate does the people’s business.

This nine−member committee includes both Democratic and Republican senators — led by co−chairs from both political parties — and is expected to report back to the Senate with its preliminary findings in April.

As one who has long sought institutional changes in the Senate and state government that would more involve individual lawmakers and the public in vital budget and policy decisions, I am looking forward to taking additional steps to achieve these goals.

With a tip of the hat to Morgan, we are definitely going to “get somewhere” in terms of government reform because we owe it to the people of the state not to stay where we have been.

George Onorato

State Senator

Astoria

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