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In Depth: One house bills

May 04, 2017 07:01 PM

Your hard-earned tax dollars pay their salaries, so you want to make sure your state lawmakers are doing their job and not wasting time. So how would you feel if we told you that they spend time and money introducing legislation that has little hope of becoming law?

Gone are the days of wasting paper, printing bills that don't have a chance. However, there's still reams of time wasted on those same kinds of bills. 

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"The reality is we are wasting people's time and money and we’re lengthening a Legislative session that really should end somewhere around early May," noted Republican Assem. Steve McLaughlin.

Cue the Schoolhouse Rock. For a bill to become a law, one of the first steps is to have a sponsor in each house. However, thousands every year don't and therefore can't pass through the Legislature.

Last year, 7,300 one-house bills were introduced. There were 430 that passed their respective house. That means the Assembly and Senate spent time voting on 430 bills that didn't likely have a chance of becoming law. Why?

"I've argued this point on the floor, when I'm debating a bill saying this bill has no Senate sponsor, the response you always get is we're hoping to get one. You're not going to get one because by the time it gets to the floor, the senators are not going to pick it up because they've already looked at it," explained McLaughiln.

The actual cost of the one-house bills is hard to calculate. There's paying for lawmakers to be in session, their salary, their gas, their food and then all the time lawyers spend actually writing these bills. There’s one-house bills like one that designated rescue cats as the official state cat, one that demanded more school supplies for left-handed students and another that would require license plates for bicycles.  

Each lawmaker has his or her own bill drafter, somebody who writes up the bills and each lawmaker likely has dozens of bills every year. Nearly every lawmaker has one-house bills, including Assemblyman McLaughlin. Thirteen of his 18 bills don't have a Senate sponsor right now.

"Now what's the difference between what you're doing and what you're complaining about," asked NewsChannel 13’s Asa Stackel.

"What I'm doing is, I'm putting in a bill, but my bills aren't getting to the floor," he responded.

McLaughlin says it’s only when a one-house bill wastes time on the floor that it becomes a problem. 

NewsChannel 13 talked with Democratic Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. Every session, he introduces bills about youth sports that ban tackling in football, heading in soccer, checking in hockey and head-first slides in baseball.  These are bills that in the past, had no chance. He says he does it to start a conversation.

"If we don't pass the bills, please pay attention to these bills, let arguments ensue," advised Benedetto.

Republican Senator Jim Tedisco says the process works the way it is. Sixty-seven of his 96 bills don't have an Assembly sponsor. 

"I think that bill took me two or three years. Some of these bills are like fine wine," he analogized.

He brought up Proposition 2, a one-house bill he had around for years. He finally found a Senate sponsor and it eventually passed -- fittingly, ending paper printing of bills.

"You don't want to limit ideas. I do think you want to limit the cost of them. I've done that through Proposition 2. We have a tablet, any bill we put in place is put in that tablet," he pointed out.

Either way, paper or tablet, sponsor or not, the bills are going to keep on coming.

Every lawmaker wants their bill to be voted on, even if it doesn't become law. It's up to the leaders of each house to decide whether a bill makes it to the floor. That's where politics comes into the mix.

Credits

Asa Stackel

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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