This time last year, the effort to legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York died, once again, in the New York State Assembly. With a similar result expected this year, let’s breakdown how it all went down in 2012 and look a bit deeper into Sheldon Silver, a major player who single-handedly has prevented the legalization of MMA in New York.
In 2012, as expected, the MMA bill moved easily through the New York State Senate committees and was then brought to the floor for a vote where it passed, decisively, 43 votes to 14. The bill then made its way to its first committee in the Assembly: Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. It never made it out of this committee because the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, held a closed door meeting among democrats, who hold the majority, to determine if the bill had enough support to actually pass if it ended up reaching the floor for a vote. Well, through a very informal and questionable process involving people raising their hands, he decided that the bill just didn’t have a legitimate chance. And that was the end of any chance of professional MMA in New York for 2012. It was also the last time we’d see outspoken MMA opponent Assemblyman Bob Reilly, who did not seek reelection later that year.
Now, something from all that might bug you, or at least it bugged me. But it doesn’t seem very democratic that one guy (Silver) can just simply decide that a bill won’t come to a vote. I understand the vetting process and managing the large amount of bills that get proposed, but this particular bill sailed through the Senate and had strong support in the assembly and makes you wonder if there wasn’t some outside influence. In any event, let’s take a look at what makes Sheldon Silver so powerful.
Sheldon Silver has been the Speaker of the New York State Assembly since 1994. This is the highest position one can hold in the Assembly. The speaker "assigns the heads of committees, selects their staffs, fills committee vacancies, dispenses political favors." He’s garnered power over the years through loyalty, but he’s also earned enemies. Some of these enemies tried to oust him in 2000. Being Speaker also means being chairman of the Rules committee which also has a lot of power. It’s the last committee a bill goes through before going to a vote and it manages the flow of legislation. Here’s a bit from a credible source describing this more:
"Another symbol of party status is membership on the rules committees of each house. The rules committees, in theory, schedule the business of the legislature. By formal rule, indeed, no bill can go to the floor in the final weeks of the session without first getting special permission from the committee on rules."
Some say this power is too much, that "he wields life-or-death power over almost every bill." If he doesn’t like a bill then that’s it, it’s finished. Looking back at last year, it seems pretty clear he didn’t like the MMA bill. But now let’s see what’s going on this year.
So far this year, we are seeing much of the same but with a bit more support. The bill sailed through the State Senate with 47 votes against 15. In the Assembly the bill has 64 sponsors (48 democrats), 12 short of the 76 votes needed to pass it. The Assembly has 150 members, 105 of whom are democrats. The bill is just sitting in the Assembly’s Tourism, Arts, Parks and Sports Development Committee, but the committee chair is expected to meet with the bill’s main sponsor this week. Unfortunately, the bill was not included in this year’s budget which has made many people skeptical of it being passed in the Assembly.
What really stands out to me this year is that in a 150 member Assembly, where 76 votes are needed to pass legislation, this bill has 64 sponsors! It’s just hard to believe they can’t secure 12 votes and is why I believe Sheldon Silver is the main crux in all of this. Let’s see if he decides to prevent it from coming to a vote again.