I never thought I would actually get to the point where I would say this, but here it goes…Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is by far the most accessible leader in this building. There, I said it. It’s true, the once press averse Speaker makes himself available for Reporter questions pretty much every session day. In fairness, he sometimes grimaces while he is doing it, but the bottom line is this: he does it. I say this a week after “Sunshine Week” in Albany when there has been renewed attention to the issue of openness in government. And as Erica Orden astutely points out, lately Reporters who cover the Capitol have felt a little shut out by the Governor, who once seemed like he enjoyed his signature “Cabinet Meetings” and “Red Room” press conferences, and now seems determined not to hold them.

This brings me to the rules changes and sunlight reforms embraced by the Assembly. to sum this up, the reforms and the process by which they were achieved is a bit of a mixed bag. Like when someone is named “Employee of the month” and they are simultaneously the biggest winner and the biggest loser. Or like the other day when I was driving and “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains came on the radio and I was really psyched, but then it was followed by “Bennie and the Jets” which kinda ruined my entire afternoon.

On the one hand the reforms are subtle, but will actually make a significant improvement in the way legislative business gets done. For example, allowing all members to have their bills considered by committee. This has been a frequent lament of Assembly Republicans who often find their bills locked up without any chance of ever passing. It will also lengthen the legislative session to two years, and extend what is known as “the kill clock” for bills. Currently, legislation that doesn’t pass within a year, must start the process all over again. Now that period will be two years. Like I said, subtle, but definitely an improvement for rank and file members. Then there is embracing modern technology which includes updating the website, and making the proceedings of committee hearings available for public review. That includes not just summarizing committee votes on the web but also recording them in some fashion. I was actually told several months ago that the Assembly has SO MANY committee hearings that they may not even have the resources to video all of them, and we may have to settle for audio on some. I know, kinda Lame, but certainly better than the current status quo.

Now for the process of achieving these reforms, which was deeply flawed. The “Working Group” was put together almost a year ago. There were no public hearings. Republicans were completely shut out of the process. And the timetable for when the recommendations would be made public changed at least four times by my count. Finally, the Working group failed to suggest term limits for leadership, which is an essential reform to turn the page on the bad old days of Shelly’s 20-year iron-fisted rule. Or, as some Republicans privately groused it took co-chairs Gary Pretlow and Brian Kavanagh an entire year of meeting in secret to determine that the Assembly needs a new website. All legitimate criticism, but the truth is both Pretlow and Kavanagh deserve some credit for taking on the very mission everyone knew would be roundly mocked if it fell short of “from-now-on-every-single-meeting-the-Assembly-has-will-be-in-public-including-conference.”

And this brings me back to the Speaker. The Assembly suffered a major trauma last year with the fall of Silver, and Heastie stepped into the role of Speaker during a very unsteady period. He not only kept the ship from sinking, but he righted it and chartered a new course. The reforms he has embraced don’t go far enough, but there is no question about it, they are a fantastic start.