The Brennan Center for Justice has released a report this week that appears to have one Brooklyn official in its crosshairs for not conducting enough legislative oversight in the State Assembly.
Brooklyn Assemblymember Joan Millman was cited in the Brennan Center’s 2008 Albany Report: Still Broken New York State Legislative Reform for her work as Assembly Oversight and Analysis Committee Chair. The purpose of the Brennan Center’s biennial report is to address rules reform governing how bills are written, how committees meet and hold hearings, and how legislation flows from committees to the floor of the legislature. According to the report, one of the problems regarding oversight in the State Assembly is that Millman’s committee has not held a meeting of its members in several sessions and has just now held its first hearing in the past 18 months, while Millman earned a $12,500 stipend for leading the committee.
Millman disputes the Brennan Center’s calculations, stating that she has held one roundtable and three hearings since November 2008, one in Albany and two in New York City. For other issues, she reached out to state agencies and legislative committees in other ways.
“Very often what happens is instead of holding hearings, we will write letters to department chairs such as what we did with student loans,” Millman said. “After receiving the response we wanted from the higher ed corporation there was no need to have a hearing on it.”
The previous discussion events Millman led addressed the state of the state parks system, energy conservation, medical equipment, and new laws that will regulate subprime mortgages. The forums were open to the public but often participants had to be invited in order to speak at them and Millman acknowledged she did not know how widely available information concerning them were to the public at large.
Millman disagreed with other sections of the report comparing the number of hearings that the City Council and State Legislature both hold, arguing that the legislature uses different means of conducting oversight over state bodies.
“It doesn’t quite work the same way,” Millman said. “We have a small staff allotted and you have to pick and choose which issues to cover. I thought that subprime mortgages should be at the top of the list and we will be doing something with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan on education which will sunset in June. Often this work is done in conjunction with another committee.”
The Brennan Center did praise the Assembly for holding annual budget implementation hearings in its committees this past session. For the next session, the Center offered several solutions for reform, including the allowance of one quarter of committee members to petition for a hearing on a bill and the mandate that each committee should hold an oversight hearing on an agency or program within its purview once a year.
“I think they make some valid points,” Millman said. “They asked us for information and we sent them documentation on committees and hearings we have held.”
The report’s authors did not want to respond to further requests for comment.