All Things Legislative

“All” things legislative isn’t really all.  However, it is enough to give you a start, whether you want to know how a bill becomes a law or how to reach the elected representatives who answer to you.

Your NY State Legislature

New York, as all states, has three branches of government. They are the Legislative, comprised of the Senate and Assembly, the Executive, headed by the Governor, and the Judicial, i.e. the courts.

The New York State Legislature has two “houses.” They are the 150 member NY State Assembly and the 61 member NY State Senate. All Members of both these houses are elected every two years.

In the Assembly, the person presiding over the session is known as the Speaker. Fellow members of the Assembly elect the Speaker for a two-year  term at the start of the session. Since members will obviously be most supportive of fellow party members, the Speaker is inevitably a member of the majority party in the Assembly.

The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate. However, the Senator whose work most closely parallels that of the Assembly Speaker is the Senate Majority Leader, also elected by house members.. Both the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader are authorized to create committees and to appoint legislators to serve on these committees.

The beginning of each legislative session is the first Wednesday after the first Monday of the New Year. Its opening is marked by the governor’s delivery of the “State of the State Message.” This outlines the priorities and programs the governor wants the legislature to address during the year ahead. The legislature remains in session until its business for that year is concluded, usually that is late June or early July. Occasionally both houses will be re-convened in the Fall for specific business needing immediate attention, but this is rare. Both houses then open again on the first Wednesday after the first Monday of January for the second year of the 2 year session.

The Pathway for A Bill to Become A Law
in the NY State Assembly (or the Senate)

  1. An Assembly member submits idea for bill to Bill Drafting Commission which puts it in formal language.
  2. Bill is introduced, given a number with which it will be printed.
  3. Bill assigned to appropriate committee(s) for discussion/review. If majority of committee members support the bill it is “reported to the floor”. If not it is said to have “died in committee.”
  4. All bills requiring spending are first sent to Ways & Means Committee which determines if state can afford cost of the bill. If passed by this and all other committees to which it was sent, the bill is then returned to Assembly for action.
  5. Final version of bill is printed – must be on members’ desks at least 3 days before being called for a vote by the full Assembly.

6*. Bill reaches floor for debate and vote.

  1. Once a bill is passed in the Assembly it is sent to the Senate where it goes through a similar process. If both houses agree to to pass a similar bill, it is then sent to the Governor for signature.
  2. Governor can either sign or veto a bill. If Governor vetoes a bill, it can still become a law when 2/3 majority in both houses vote in favor of the bill; this is known as an “override.”
  3. When signed by Governor, the bill then becomes law.

So when is the appropriate time to be in contact with your Senator/Assemblymember and others?  You might think it is step 6, when the bill reaches the floor, for debate.  However, sometimes the length of time on the floor is extremely short, especially if the bill is controversial and the leadership wants to get it passed before the public becomes aware that it is up for a vote.  (It has happened, for instance, that a bill reached Senate desks 20 minutes before the vote was called.) It is therefore advisable to let your representative know of your wishes when the bill first goes to committee.  Sometimes the representative either belongs to a committee or can influence its decision.

Also, consider that by the time the bill gets to the floor, the legislator may already have made up his mind, so your call may not be as effective as you would wish.

 THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS IN WASHINGTON

Except for being a larger body, dealing with more bills and greater budgets, the process in Washington is quite similar to what was presented above. Similarities include 2-year session length, similar calendar, and identical process for introducing and passing a law.

There are a few differences. The US Congress has a US Senate and a US House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is comparable to the NY State Assembly. Most states use the House of Representatives name at the state level.

At the state level, the Assembly and Senate members both have 2-year terms of office. In Congress, all members of the House of Representatives face elections every two years. Federal elections occur in even-numbered years.

Some US Senators also face election in each even-numbered year. However, the Senators have 6-year terms of office and seek re-election or resign at the end of his or her 6-year term.

 

Need to know who your elected representatives are?  There are multiple avenues available.

Via the Internet you can find
your House Representative in Washington at www.house.gov
your NY State Senator at https://www.nysenate.gov/
and  your NYS Assembly member at http://www.assembly.state.ny.us
These contacts also include ways to send a message to your representative.
In Monroe County, a complete list that includes your County Legislator can be found at https://www.monroecounty.gov/etc/voter/.  At this site, Monroe County citizens can also register to vote or change their address.
Other counties have different processes, some of which are available on the Internet.

By phone:
NY State Assembly Public Information office  (1-518-455-4218)
NY State Senate Switchboard  1-518-455-2800

Non-Internet routes for obtaining the names of your Congressional Representative, NY State Senator and Assemblymember, and County Legislator:
*Look on blue pages of your phone book under your County’s name.  Find “Board of Elections” or “Election Board,” call them, and give your street address. Names, local addresses and phone numbers of all of the above legislators will be given to you or
*Call 1-800-for-vote (367-8683) and ask for the names and phone numbers of your state Senate and Assembly representatives or
*Contact your public library.

Another option: contact National Right to Life Committee at http://www.capwiz.com/nrlc/home/.
The Legislation Action Center there will have more information about specific bills and also will offer a service. By providing your zip code, your elected officials will be identified. You can then send free e-mails to both NY Senators or your representative in the House to express support (or opposition) for current bills.