ICYMI: Times Union Editorializes for NYS Lawmakers to Stay in Session Remotely
"The Legislature still must perform its role and act as a check on executive power"
NEW YORK, NY (04/02/2020) (readMedia)-- Today the Albany Times Union published an editorial urging New York lawmakers to step up and continue to legislate remotely post-budget. Earlier this week, Common Cause/NY and Andrew Hoppin, the former and first ever Chief Information Officer for the NYS Senate, held a press conference call to provide guidance and technical expertise for how New York lawmakers can and should continue to function in virtual session. The New York Times has editorialized in support as well.
See here and below for the full TU editorial.
The COVID-19 pandemic keeps lawmakers away from the state Capitol.
The Legislature still must perform its role and act as a check on executive power.
During these dark and frightening times, many New Yorkers are working from home and using available technologies to stay connected and productive. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they're doing their jobs. There's no reason why state lawmakers can't do the same.
The halls of the Capitol have been quiet in recent weeks, with most lawmakers and staffers staying home to flatten the curve of the virus' spread. That is the right thing to do, of course.
While lawmakers are planning measures that would allow for remote voting on the budget and some emergency measures, there has been no indication the Legislature will conduct anything remotely akin to a regular session.
Yet lawmakers should not stop legislating.
As the good-government group Common Cause New York points out, the Legislature can continue to cast votes, debate legislation, hold public hearings and conduct most of its other functions remotely. The technology, including teleconferencing and videoconferencing, is available and accessible.
State government's legislative branch can continue to function, in other words, even during a crisis. In fact, a crisis is exactly when New Yorkers most need a functioning and active Legislature.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been doing an exemplary job guiding the state through the medical, social and economic turmoil at hand. But the tough decisions ahead aren't his alone to make. The Legislature must act as a check on executive power. Its members' voices must be heard.
The governor and the Legislature must together navigate an ever-shifting crisis while planning for the difficult recovery to follow. The state budget, for example, will be a continuing work in progress, since nobody can predict how big a hit COVID-19 will deliver to state revenue. Legislators can't just pass off key spending decisions to the governor.
As it happens, New York lawmakers are scheduled to receive pay raises this year. Given that the hikes are coming in a time of plummeting state revenue and economic uncertainty, it would send a terrible signal for the Legislature to use the coronavirus as an excuse to stop working.
That's not to say legislating remotely will be easy or ideal. As many of those who are FaceTiming, Skyping and Zooming can tell you, working from home is often challenging.
Face-to-face communication, especially between lawmakers and constituents gathering in Albany, has value that can't be replaced or replicated. Nobody should see legislating from a distance as the future.
But emergencies call for adaptation, resilience and determination. New Yorkers are showing those qualities in abundance these days. Lawmakers should follow their lead. Now, maybe more than ever, New York legislators must step up and do their jobs.