Advocacy group Common Cause is decrying the restricted access to the state Capitol Wednesday night that prevented protests from spilling over into the public galleries of the Senate and Assembly as lawmakers passed a series of budget bills.
The lobby of the Senate was closed to visitors and lobbyists; press and lawmakers’ aides could work through. State Police troopers had a strong presence at the Capitol as well. About 300 protestors still demonstrated over the cuts to education, health care and in favor of a tax on millionaires throughout the public areas of the Capitol Building.
Common Cause, in a statement, says the state violated the constitution in disallowing the public from viewing the proceedings.
“The virtual lock-down of the State Capitol last night to prevent ordinary citizens from observing their elected representatives in person conducting what is supposed to be the people’s business offends all notions of good government and civic engagement and was plainly in violation of New York State Constitution. Locking the public out of public sessions of the Legislature would be objectionable at any time, but is even more so during the debate on this year’s budget bills. Given the financial challenges our state faces, the budget bills are arguably the bills which will have the most immediate and direct impact on millions of New Yorkers. It is outrageous that the Legislature is so frightened of ordinary New Yorkers that they will not allow anyone other than staff and the press to observe the debates in person. Not only does this fly in the face of long-standing American tradition, it violates Article III, Section 10 of the New York State Constitution. That section provides in relevant part: “The doors of each house [of the Legislature]shall be kept open, except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.” There is no question that the sessions were not secret; members of the press were able to observe and the sessions were webcast and broadcast. There is no justification for the Legislature’s conduct.