Thursday, March 14, 2013

City Council Candidate Andrew Cohen Calls for Council Reform

4-point plan includes elimination of lulus and
calls for automatic votes on bills with majority sponsorship

Bronx-City Council candidate Andrew Cohen unveiled his 4-point plan for reforming the New York City Council, through broad new measures that emphasize majority control, support Council committees, equalize funding for community needs, and eliminate Council Members’ subsidy stipends known as “lulus.” The need for reform has recently been highlighted by Council Member Oliver Koppell’s accessible taxi legislation and the renewed battle over the paid sick leave bill, which has stalled in the Council without a vote for three years despite widespread support among City Council Members.
“What we have with paid sick leave is a bill that has 38 sponsors, nearly three-quarters of the entire Council membership, which has been on the agenda since March 2010, and it still hasn’t even been voted on,” Cohen said. “Whether or not you support the legislation, its stagnant history in the face of overwhelming support clearly shows that the lawmaking process in the Council is in need of real reform.”

To reform the process, Cohen proposes establishing a sponsorship threshold whereby a bill sponsored by a majority of Council Members will be automatically heard and scheduled for an up or down vote. 

“Bills with significant support from the majority of the Council should not be denied a hearing or a vote,” said Cohen.

The Cohen reform plan also calls for other measures that would improve the legislative process by strengthening the roles of committees and individual Council Members:

  • Committee Reform: As it currently stands, committee chairs do not have the authority to hire any committee staff, severely handicapping their ability to lead effectively. The Cohen reform plan would allow each committee chair, rather than central leadership, to hire the counsel for the committee. 

  • Member Item Reform: Every year, Council Members are allocated discretionary funds known as member items to be used for improvements in their districts; however the amount of these funds varies widely among Council Members. As a result, member items often reflect the needs of central leadership, not the needs of the constituency. To reform this process the Council needs to move toward greater transparency and evenhandedness when dealing with member items. If he is elected, Andrew Cohen has already committed to setting aside a portion of his budget for participatory budgeting, which would give members of the community a chance to directly affect how his member items are spent. But that isnt enough. To ensure that each member has an equal opportunity to respond to his or her constituencys needs, and to treat our communities equitably, each Council Member, who by law represents a district with the same number of New Yorkers as any other, would receive the same amount of discretionary funds.

  • Elimination of Lulus: Lulus are stipends in addition to salary, doled out to certain members who hold leadership positions in the Council. Unfortunately, like member items money lulus are often tied to loyalty, rather than to the effectiveness of the legislator. If elected to the City Council, Andrew Cohen promises that he will not accept any lulus and will fight to have them eliminated altogether.

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