New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine recently pulled aside the veil to provide the average citizen with a look into what makes a successful state government tick at a lecture entitled “Albany 101: Police and Ethics in the New York State Legislature,” held on Sept. 24 at the Jericho Public Library, part of an ongoing series that Lavine said he is doing throughout Nassau County.
“The idea is to help people to know more about how bills actually become laws in New York State from the legislative point of view, which I think is quite interesting,” he said. “And another important aspect of these programs that I’m doing is talking about how ethical violations are investigated and punished in Albany, which is something that occupies a lot of my time because I’m the chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee and the co-chair of the state Legislative Ethics Commission.”
Lavine held his lecture in the Jericho Library auditorium, accompanied by a slide-show presentation and afterwards an active question and answer session with community members who attended. These types of presentations are something Lavine said he wished existed before he initially got involved in the political arena.
“Before I was in elected office, I never once hear of anyone in state office having a program to discuss the nuts and bolts of how legislation actually works and certainly never heard anyone talking about ethics laws and how they pertain to members of the assembly, the senate and lobbyists,” he said. “My objective is to open up the line of communications with the people in our communities so that they have a better sense of how legislation actually takes place, and the process that’s involved when my colleagues are changed with ethical lapses.”
Getting a law passed in New York State—any law—can be a complex, harrowing ordeal with a variety of checks and balances in place to ensure that any bill that is passed is, indeed, a good and just one. And Lavine said sometimes the entire process can take years, depending on the circumstances.
“The there are many important aspects to passing a law—first, it’s got to make sense and secondly, if it makes sense, it’s a matter of finding enough allies who will support it,” he said. “Then you have to get it through a committee, and then the process that’s involved with getting through other committees who will vet it before it goes to the floor of the House of Representitves. Then there’s the process involved with getting to the floor and arguing for its passage, and then seeing if the Senate is doing the same thing, and assuming they do, then we have to see if the Governor will sign it into law.”
But even if an official is lucky enough to get a bill passed through the House and the Senate and the Governor signs off on it, Lavine noted that’s only the beginning. Laws are living, breathing entities that must be able to evolve with the times, he said.
“The important part to note is that when these laws are passes, it is not done out of happenstance. A lot of work goes into it,” he said. “And even though these bills are checked, vetted, argued, discussed and passed, in the end, we never know just how these things are going to work in real life. That’s another part of the process, because no sooner do we pass a law, then we have to re-evaluate them and modernize them so they can protect our citizens.”
So far, Lavine said that reaction to his Albany 101 series has been very positive. Already, there are plans in the works to possibly expand it to Suffolk County as well.
“It’s been very good so far. We recently had a packed house at Hofstra University,” he said. “I’ve presented these to churches, synagogues, libraries like here in Jericho, and they’re fun. A big part of the program isn’t me talking, it’s the people in the audience expressing their opinions and asking questions. That’s the most important part. I learn a lot more from them then they learn from me.”
Maddy Owen was one of the attendees at the event and said that she was given a glimpse into the word of politics that she wasn’t privy to beforehand.
“Assemblyman Lavine was very informative and actually pretty funny as well,” she said. “I had no idea how complex politics can be. It’s a wonder they accomplish anything. I think this was a great event and I think our elected officials should hold more like it.”