BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Hochul administration quickly took care of some pressing issues this week in calling legislators back to Albany to deal with things like a pending eviction crisis and establishing a cannabis control board.
However, critics said it may have been a little too quick.
"I think you could have waited a couple days," NY Coalition for Open Government President Paul Wolf said. "Do it right. Publicly release what it is that's being voted on for the public and legislators."
Wolf said he's concerned by a process that did not afford the public time to digest legislation prior to Wednesday's votes.
"I mean Governor Hochul has stated that a key part of her administration is going to be transparency and yet we had a session called where none of the bills being voted on we're released to the public," he said.
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt had the same concern, noting he didn't receive bill language until Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the Legislature voted.
"The governor I think maybe needs to use some of her cache to say, ‘look, we're going to do things a little differently.’ I want to make sure every legislator, Republican or Democrat, downstate or upstate, can see what we're doing and has time to read the bill. It's not about us. It's about the people we represent. They expect me to read that bill and see that bill before I vote," Ortt said.
Critics believe the process led to bad results in the case of legislation authorizing virtual public meetings until January 15. An executive order that had previously authorized them during the pandemic expired on June 25, and the administration says the law will decrease the risk of spread of the delta variant and help people with disabilities participate in government.
"It does not mandate that meeting videos have to be posted online," Wolf said. "It doesn't mandate that meeting minutes have to be posted online. It doesn't mandate that the public has an opportunity to be heard remotely. Let's do it right. Let's do a correct bill and again it was kind of a rush job."
Ortt added, "If the public doesn't have broadband, if they don't have access to internet, you can say, 'oh, you're invited, just click the link.' Well, OK, but I don't have internet or I don't have access to high-speed broadband, or maybe I don't know how to use a computer and I can't go physically, you're barring me — that I think was the concern on the bill."
Wolf believes better legislation would have encouraged a hybrid model, perhaps requiring a majority of lawmakers to be present while allowing others to still participate remotely.
He believes in many cases, virtual meetings have been locking out the public and the press.