In Aftermath of Corruption Scandals, Albany Slow to Progress on Transparency

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who took over for Sheldon Silver earlier this year after a corruption scandal, has promised more transparency in state government. While Heastie appointed a working group to study the issue, there hasn't been much progress. Zack Fink filed this report.

In January, When Carl Heastie took the reins as speaker, he promised to let in the sunshine, to modernize an institution that has often been criticized for operating in the dark ages. 

After the budget was passed in March, Heastie appointed a 12-member working group to study transparency and report back.

But critics say the working group—all Democratic lawmakers—hasn't made much progress.

"We are disappointed by the slow pace of its work. The committee having been appinted back in April. Four months have passed now and they have nothing to show for it. There's been no public meetings," says Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union.

This past year, Albany was rocked by two of the highest profile corruption scandals in recent memory. The legislative leaders in both houses were forced to step down from their posts after being indicted on federal corruption charges.

Reformers have said for years that one way to help combat corruption in the legislature, is to be less secretive.

"The Assembly is broken. A big reason the Assembly is broken is because everything is behind closed doors. To fix the broken Assembly means bringing much more of what the Assembly does before the public, including reforming the Assembly," says John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany.

The way things currently operate, legislative commitee meetings don't allow public testimony, and are barely publicized. Legislation is debated openly on the floor, but on bills that have been crafted behind closed doors.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh is co-chair of the working group.

"Many of us I think feel that we have been lacking in terms of transparency and public participation in the past. Some of that is just a perception on the part of the public, and some of it is a reality," says Kavanagh.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he has not been disappointed with the working group's pace.

"I've kind of left that to the 12 members of the committee to come back with suggestions. They have time," says Heastie.

The working group does plan to pick up its pace in the fall, they have not reached out to any Republican members to participate although Kavanagh says they are open to it. The goal is to have a report by December that way reforms can be voted on as early as January. 

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