State Senate slips out the back door
Thursday was the state Senate's "Getaway Day," and its exit from Albany was sped up by last-minute changes to the committee schedule.
During the Senate's session on Thursday, floor leader Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, announced that committee meetings scheduled for later in the day would be held "off the floor," with different times and in new locations.
This announcement was not accompanied by an update to the state's public information website, which continued to reference the wrong locations and times until they were taken down completely.
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the late announcements were legally required, even though they were the result of changes to Thursday's session that had been announced the day before. He said it would be illegal to reschedule the committee meetings, so informing the public minutes before meetings were to be held was the only option.
"[We] legally had to call them off the floor," Reif said.
He would not address the lack of advance warning, but noted that people watching the live feed of the session on their computer or television would have been alerted.
This explanation did not suffice for Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, who said the Senate's actions demonstrated a bad attitude about the committee process.
"When you combine it with everything else, like the ability to vote without being present, it adds up to a disdain for a public process," she said. "It is further proof that the Senate takes the committee process very lightly."
Referring to the fact that Thursday was the last day of legislative business for the week, Lerner said that while senators may be anxious to get home, committee meetings should not be schedule for their convenience. Lerner also scoffed at the idea that a live webcast of meetings was a meaningful gesture to offset the schedule changes, as had been repeatedly argued by Reif when explaining the actions by the Senate.
As for the response from Senate Democrats, spokesman Austin Shafran wouldn't speak to the legality of the time and place changes, but instead alluded to a disjointed scheduling process.
"This is another unfortunate example of the lengths Senate Republicans have gone to hide from public scrutiny [and] accountability," Shafran said.
The state's Open Meetings Law requires that notice of a public meeting change, like the off the floor committee changes on Thursday, must be accompanied by a public posting of the information. Traditionally, that posting is on the state's public information website, which was never updated Thursday afternoon. It is not clear whether the changes were posted on the state's premium service for lobbyists and staffers.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, did not return calls Thursday.
The six committee meetings can be viewed on the Senate's website, where at least some of their locations were still listed incorrectly Thursday night.
David Lombardo is a Gazette reporter. Reach him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.