Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Public ranting sessions in NYC

The NYT has a funny and interesting article on a peculiar New York City custom: allowing any and all citizens to have their say about a law at its signing. In this case, Mayor Bloomberg had to endure four hours of public comments by people supporting and opposing (apparently in equal measure numerically, but I'm not sure about time-wise) the City Council's recent vote to give Bloomberg a shot at a third term. This goes against the result of referenda in 1993 and 1996, when New Yorkers voted to impose the current limits, though Bloomberg argued (and a bare majority of the City Council agreed) that the financial crisis obliges him to seek another term in office. The Times has a little history on the city's practice:

The tradition of allowing the public to speak before a bill is signed dates back at least as far as the 19th century, and has been known to sway a mayor. Once, after hearing hours of fiery testimony in 1897, Mayor William L. Strong vetoed a bill regulating sidewalk vendors.

I like the example they chose, and I think the practice would be particularly useful with regards to those sorts of anti-libertarian laws that largely affect individuals, small businesses, and generally groups without access to lobbyists. Maybe it would have stopped Los Angeles from passing this law affecting food vendors in that city.

Then again, maybe not – I imagine that if there were any modern instances of mayors or council members changing their minds after hearing public comments, the Times would have mentioned them.

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