Authors: Legislative “Sausage Factory” Can Still Produce Quality
New York’s Legislature was once a model for the nation — and could regain that position — Daniel L. Feldman and Gerald Benjamin say in their new book, Tales from the Sausage Factory: Making Laws in New York State.
Feldman, a state Assemblyman from 1980-1998, and Benjamin, a State University of New York Distinguished Professor, discussed the book at a forum hosted by the Institute on September 23. With scandals and corruption leading recent years’ news stories about the state Legislature, they said, citizens and students of government may have forgotten its importance and potential for accomplishment. Through their book, they sought to dispel current negative perceptions about the legislative process, they said.
“If you give up on the Legislature, you give up on democracy. That’s not really an attractive option,” Feldman said. “We must try to bring it back to a level of fine function.”
He described the environment in the Legislature during the 1970s and 1980s as “adversarial but creative” and said a societal decline in “commitment to the common welfare” has reduced the quality of policy debate by elected leaders.
Benjamin cited the impact of one of the laws championed by Feldman and described in the book – the domestic violence control law. Feldman’s bill required the incarceration of people who violated orders of protection, and authorized judges to revoke the firearm licenses of known batterers and to confiscate their guns. As a result of the law, Benjamin said, some unidentifiable individuals who otherwise would have been killed in domestic violence are still alive.
“Statistically we know for sure that that outcome happened,” Benjamin said. “That’s pretty powerful, if that’s the line of work you’re going to do.”
Feldman is currently associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York.
Benjamin is distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and associate vice president for regional engagement and director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) there. A former member of the Ulster County Legislature, he has written extensively on government and politics in New York.