By James DeWeese
On Tuesday, the day before Republican Gov. George Pataki was slated to kick off the legislative season by delivering his state of the state address, Senate Democrats touted a series of proposed rules overhauls they hoped the body would vote on as early as next week.Similar measures are being proposed in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly.During a conference call organized by Senate minority leader David Paterson (D-Manhattan), members of the minority Democrats said the time had come to move past the partisan impasse conflict and out-dated rules that turned 2004 into one of the least effective legislative sessions on record.”The voters clearly want it. The interest groups clearly want it. The media wants it and Monday will tell,” state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) said of the momentum for reform in the wake of the state's latest budget on record and a New York University report that labelled Albany the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation. “I don't want to see guys holding press conferences in 2006 talking about reform when they vote not to have it in January 2005 … This is the time to have it.”The proposed rules reforms would put an end to so-called empty-seat voting, a process by which lawmakers can vote yes on all bills simply by checking in in the morning and then leaving, a personal peeve of Sabini who said he has maintained almost perfect attendance.The changes proposed by state Democrats Tuesday blend recommendations formulated by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) about two years ago and others put forth by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice in a scathing report it issued last year. Among other items, the changes include initiatives that would allow minority members more control over the Senate's agenda, currently controlled by the Republican majority, increase the public debate period from two hours to five and require each committee to submit a detailed report of its findings on bills it sends to the Senate.After talking with the governor, Paterson expressed measured optimism that real progress would be made toward reform during this legislative season.”Our newest challenge is to make sure it's sincere reform as opposed to phoney reform,” he said.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.