Making Democracy Work

League Studies/Concurrences

Legislative Procedures Update Study

League Consensus

Lively discussion on New York State legislators' outside income, terms of office, and their leadership terms was part of the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County program update study of legislative procedures in a session November 17 at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady.

Leagues across the state will determine their positions on an update to the League of Women Voters of New York State's current positions, resulting in changes or retention of the current position. Positions allow the League to educate the public or lobby on elected legislature's procedures to promote more ethical and responsible government.

Participants in the study found it hardest to resolve the issue of whether State legislators should be full-time "professional legislators" or "part time citizen-legislators" as is currently the case Hard won consensus was reached that the legislators should continue to be able to earn outside income but any income should be fully and publicly disclosed. A strong dissent was noted by those who preferred a better paid legislature with no outside income. If outside income were allowed, a percentage of base salary was preferred for the restriction. Legislators' salaries should not be weighted by the cost of living of different regions of the state, according to the group.

Extended terms for legislators were agreed upon with four years the preferred length and with the legislative body having staggered terms so that not all the legislators' terms would come up for re-election at the same time. The group did not voice a preference of how the staggering of terms would be implemented.

The League participants believe leadership positions should be restricted to a specified time period and those holding the positions should be able to return to leadership after an unspecified time away from the posts. Committee chairs also should serve for a finite rather than an indefinite period. It was noted that currently, the leadership positions can be challenged to bring about change but the challengers often are penalized by their party leaders, i.e. by committee assignments, stipends for committee chairs (the so-called lulus), etc. Consensus on retaining stipends for leadership posts and committee chairs was readily reached since it was agreed this required more work than just committee participation.

In the far ranging discussion which sometimes focused on the ideal versus the pragmatic choice, the group generally agreed that the criminal investigations and convictions of New York State Legislators often had nothing to do with their regular outside income but with greed and corruption of power. It strongly supported revealing income from all sources and enforcing that condition to prevent corruption.

Materials for the study were provided by the State League. They can be found on line at the State League's web site. Cheryl Nechamen, chair of the Schenectady League's study, thanked the League members for their participation in the consensus.

Submitted by Joan Elliott