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State Assembly leaves open-government bill in limbo

Without a signature by the end of the year, disclosure bill will disappear in an automatic veto

The New York State Assembly met in special session this week but took no action to send unsigned bills to the governor. AP Photo/Hans Pennink

This week state Assembly leaders plan to send the governor a bill that would allow New York City livery car drivers outside Manhattan to pick up street hails. Cuomo is now forced to either sign or veto the measure.

But meanwhile 16 other bills passed by the Assembly and Senate last session remain bottled up in the legislature. Among them is a measure that would require state and local agencies to make all documents discussed at public meetings available on the appropriate agency’s website before meetings occur. If an agency doesn’t have that capability, physical copies must be available at the meeting.

If the bill, known as A72, does not reach the governor’s desk within the next two weeks it will face the possibility of automatic elimination in the new year: The governor must sign any bills submitted from the last legislative session within 30 calendar days or they will die in a “pocket veto.”

When The New York World first reported on the open-government bill in early October, the measure had passed the legislature in June but had yet to be sent on to the governor for approval more than three months later. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was in the process of sending the hundreds of outstanding measures to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in batches to give the governor’s office time to review each one. A72 was among the final 30 scheduled to be delivered. Assembly Legislative Services said at the time that the bill would be transmitted that month, and the bill’s sponsor, Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) said she was confident that it would be, especially in light of Gov. Cuomo’s pledge for increased transparency in state government.

So why the delay? The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Spokespeople for the Speaker and Assembly were not able to respond before this story was published. But Assemblymember Paulin offers a possible clue: She says the governor’s office has relayed complaints from state agencies that the proposed law’s requirements are too onerous.

Paulin dismisses such concerns. “We have all these practicable words there,” she said. “If it’s too expensive, if it costs anything, etc.” she said, agencies are not required under the measure to disclose every document. The main purpose of the bill, she added, is to promote citizen involvement in local government.

“The governor should sign the bill,” said Russ Haven, legislative counsel at the New York Public Interest Research Group. He agrees that the language of the bill is noncontroversial. “There’s ample room in the legislation to allow agencies and departments to not provide these documents when it’s just not doable for them,” he said. The bill is extremely timely, he adds, in light of the governor’s property tax cap, signed earlier this year and going into effect in 2012, which will raise the stakes for county and school budget meetings and may draw more people to the process.

“To participate in those debates, people need access to those primary documents,” Haven pointed out. Providing documents for public meetings, he said, “seems like the most fundamental thing. You could be able to follow along and understand what’s under discussion.”

As Paulin works with the governor’s office toward passage of two other bills she worries that A00072 is destined for a pocket veto. “I’m in a position of knowing what it feels like working on a bill they definitely want to pass. So, I can feel the difference,” she said. “With this bill there’s no conversation like that.”

UPDATE: Spokesperson for Sheldon Silver Michael Whyland told us: ”We’ll be sending any remaining bills either tomorrow or next week.”

Outstanding Assembly and Senate Bills as of 12/8/11

Besides A72, the open-government bill, measures passed last session and still awaiting delivery to the governor include an Assembly bill that gives a legal definition to children without parents and creates a formal procedure for placing them in foster care. A Senate bill would create an abuse notification system in state-licensed care facilities for the developmentally disabled. Here is the full list:

Bill Sponsor Description
A72B Paulin (MS) Requires certain records discussed at open meetings be made available to the public prior to such meeting
A424 Gunther (MS) Sets forth procedures to be followed in the event a sex offender fails to mail a signed verification within twenty calendar days of mailing by DCJS
A966B Kellner (MS) Provides a tax credit for the purchase of new vehicles by transportation companies, which vehicles are accessible to persons with disabilities
A7705B Lupardo (MS) Makes permanent the qualified emerging technology company facilities, operations and training credit; repealer
A7836A Paulin (MS) Creates article 10C of the family court act relating to destitute children; repealer
A8330 Weisenberg (MS) Creates an abuse prevention notification system
A8339 Paulin Relates to kinship guardian assistance payments
A8356A Scarborough Relates to the statewide certification program for participation by minority group members and women with respect to state contracts
A8496 Heastie Relates to New York city livery permits and increases the amount of taxicabs designed to foster increased access and mobility to persons with disabilities
S2581 LaValle Authorizes the Long Island power authority to propose certain rate changes to the public service commission
S4257C Golden Prohibits diversion of resources from certain dedicated funds that support the MTA, the NYC transit authority and their subsidiaries in certain instances
S4360 Young Relates to municipal bidding
S4555A Seward Relates to the Montgomery, Otsego, Schoharie county solid waste management authority
S4655 Skelos Provides that firefighters who die in the line of duty have their names inscribed on the New York state fallen firefighter memorial
S4753A Ranzenhofer Relates to obtaining best value for contracts for purchase contracts
S50001 [Budget] Makes appropriations for the support of state government
S50002 [Budget] Enacts major components of legislation relating to issues deemed necessary to the state

(MS) = Multi-sponsor bill
Source: New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission

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