BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In 2012, the state senate approved unanimously a law named after Alix Rice, an 18-year-old who was hit and killed by a drunk driver the year before.
The bill closes a loophole in the law that allows drunk drivers to leave the scene of a crash, and later claim they were unaware they caused any injury or damage.
Every year since 2012, the bill has passed in the senate, only to be stalled in the Assembly.
Local and state legislators say it’s a perfect example of an out-of-touch, dysfunctional process that often leaves WNY wondering — what goes on in Albany?
“Over the years, the corrupt politicians have transformed the political way in New York State to their own liking,” said Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-147th.
DiPietro, a frequent and outspoken critic in the minority, says his colleagues in Albany are out of touch and inefficient, often proposing or debating or approving laws that have little to no real impact on voters.
Take feral cats and their claws, DiPietro said.
“We spent three hours last year, or more, debating the de-clawing of feral cats,” he said. “We’re in an economic crisis, and we wasted a whole day debating the de-clawing of feral cats. It was a one-house bill, so after we debated it, it went in the garbage. Since there was no Senate sponsor, it was a waste of time. ))
The main sponsor of that bill, Democrat Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, of Manhattan, called DiPietro’s description inaccurate. She said the bill was debated in committee — where many bills are — but never reached the floor for a vote.
“Either his memory is faulty, or he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Rosenthal said. “If Assemblymember DiPietro has issues, it’s because he’s ineffective.
“It’s democracy,” she said. “This is what democracy looks like.”
“We debate it, so it makes it look like we’re doing work, but in the end of the day, it goes in the garbage and it’s done for two more years,” he said. “That’s not the exception. That’s the norm. That’s every week we go to Albany, we deal with this.”
“That hasn’t been my experience.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who’s spent six years in the “People’s House,” disagrees. He pointed to a lengthy and bountiful list of accomplishments for Western New York, including both Buffalo Billion programs, and state money for the downtown medical campus and expansion at UB.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Ryan, D-149th. “You have to focus on what your priorities are, and then to work those priorities throughout the legislative calendar. It doesn’t happen just because you think it’s a good idea.”
There are frustrations in the Senate as well.
“I would say probably the worst part about Albany is that oftentimes, the most commonsense pieces of legislation fail to even come to the floor for a vote,” said Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
While there were proposals to make black dirt the state soil, or make sweet corn the state vegetable, Kennedy said more meaningful legislation — like his bill to extend the age of abuse victims to charge their abusers beyond 23 — are left to languish, despite their support.
“It’s mind boggling to think that there are so many pieces of legislation that could impact millions of lives across this state, for generations to come, and are yet to even get to the floor,” Kennedy said. “To me it’s an absolute failure of the system, and it’s a failure of leadership in Albany.”
The pace of doing business at the capital has an impact on what gets done at the local level as well, says Erie County Legislative Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo.
“You need to elect people that care about providing the services that it should provide, than pushing their own personal agendas,” said Lorigo, C-West Seneca. “I get that we’re also in the business of shaking hands and smiling in front of the camera. But that shouldn’t be the No. 1 priority. Don’t come back from Albany with a feel-good resolution without addressing real issues.”