One of the State Legislature's great shortcomings is that a single leader can prevent an extremely popular bill from ever getting to the floor for a vote.

Today's NY Times and yesterday's NY Post report that New York City officials are accusing Speaker Silver of caving into pressure from trial lawyers and bottling up a bill supported by both Spitzer and Pataki that would have changed the way public employees could recover money from municipalities in personal injury lawsuits. Specifically, under the current law

a municipal worker who is disabled in a work-related accident can receive an accident disability pension, which is paid for by the city. But the worker can also sue for lost future earnings and significantly increase the amount of money he or she receives.

The new bill would have ended the right to sue for these second set of payments. New York City officials thought they had enough votes to get the bill out of the Judiciary Committee, but at the last minute, Silver added three members to the committee, who voted against the bill and defeated it, 11 to 10.

Putting aside the merits of the bill itself, we have a question:

While everyone is decrying Speaker Silver's "packing" of the Judiciary Committee (and really, all he did was fill three vacancies), shouldn't they really be asking why it's so darn difficult to get a bill to the floor, even when (as the bills supporters seem to claim) it has the support of such a large number of Assemblymembers? So Silver may have added three members to the Committee to defeat the bill. If a majority of Assemblymembers support it, shouldn't they have a way of circumventing the Committee and Silver and getting the bill to the floor for debate and a vote?

The Brennan Center's report on the Legislature showed that New York's Legislature renders it more difficult than any other legislatie chamber for a rank-and-file member to get a bill out of committee and onto the floor for consideration. It seems to us that, in the story of the life and death of this particular bill, that's the real crime.

Categories: General, Legislative Rules