Former President Trump’s indictment and arraignment renewed interest in New York’s prohibition on televising state court proceedings. But it also drew a spotlight on an annual Albany affliction: using the annual state budget process to cram through major policy change.

Section 52 of the state’s Civil Rights Law forbids televising court proceedings where witnesses are compelled to testify. Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal introduced a bill this session to allow audio-visual coverage of judicial proceedings.

But rather than go through any sort of committee process, the senator told Politico he is hopeful they could adopt his bill as part of the state budget.

But according to Hoylman-Sigal, his bill has no fiscal implications, meaning there’s no reason for including it in the opaque process under which the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate majority leader negotiate the state budget. Legislators missing their pay checks while the budget is delayed should push to strip out the straight-up policy issues—like bail reform—allegedly holding it up. Instead, certain legislators from the Assembly and the Senate want to see things like “good cause” eviction in the final deal.

Hoylman-Sigal’s bill can stand on its own and pass through the regular legislative process. A bill to promote transparency in the courts ought to be debated transparently in the Legislature.

Legislators have introduced versions of the Hoylman-Sigal bill since at least 2011, though all died in committee. There must have been a reason. Those opposed can offer their reasons New York should be one of only two states and the District of Columbia that forbid televising trial court proceedings.

The Fund for Modern Courts published a report last year on cameras in trial courtrooms. It classified jurisdictions as open (audiovisual coverage is presumed), open with some restrictions (court approval), open with more restrictions (court approval plus participant consent or precluded by a participant’s objection) and closed (New York).

The Hoylman-Sigal bill would make New York an open jurisdiction, meaning a judge could restrict audiovisual coverage only for good cause. The senator wants the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Assembly Speaker to decide for everyone. After all, it’s not like the Legislature’s going to hold up the state budget over the issue.

Cameras in courtrooms is a matter worth debate. But that debate should not be restricted to two women and a man in a room.

About the Author

Cam Macdonald

Cameron J. “Cam” Macdonald is an Adjunct Fellow with the Empire Center and Executive Director and General Counsel for the Government Justice Center.

Read more by Cam Macdonald

You may also like

Unlikely Pair Tries to Blow Open Secret Wind Deal 

Offshore wind developers, citing changing market conditions, are demanding what could be billions of dollars in additional subsidies—but refusing to let the public see how much or explain their reasoning. Read More

Hochul not leading on transparency 

In her own transparency plan, Hochul committed to expanding public participation in government, strengthening public integrity compliance, and changing the way the Executive Chamber handles its records and records requests.  Read More

Judge, Jury and … CFO?

A state court judge at a hearing this morning will consider whether to interfere with New York City authority over its own budget by ordering a preliminary injunction that ices a portion of Gotham’s recently enacted FY 23 city budget. Read More

Supremes could hammer NY unions

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for New York’s politically powerful public-sector unions. Read More

Tax cap 2, NYSUT 0

New York’s property tax cap has survived a legal challenge from the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) for the second time in six months. Read More

Make way for … Son of CFE!

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) litigation of 1993-2006 established the principle that New York State is constitutionally obligated to ensure funding of a “sound, basic education” for pupils in New York City schools. Today, the state’s highest court cleared the way for a lawsuit claiming that funding levels for about a dozen of New York’s small city school districts doesn’t meet that requirement. Read More

Top state court upholds corporate welfare

New York’s highest court has just ruled—not for the first time—that Article VII, Section 8.1 of the State Constitution does not mean what it seems to say in prohibiting gifts and loans of state money “to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking.” Read More

The “Judges Hotel”

We pointed out last week that the Judiciary has been failing to do its part to help the state reduce expenses during a severe fiscal crisis. Today, the New York Post reports the state Office of Court Administration is spending $23 million to renovate... Read More