Cuomo upholds local control of police

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Suffolk PDBetter late than never, Governor Andrew Cuomo has exercised a pocket veto of legislation that would have allowed unions representing police and other civil service employees to insist on collective bargaining of disciplinary procedures.

The bill was passed at the end of session in June, but wasn’t even sent to Cuomo’s desk by the Senate until December. That effectively re-started the clock for gubernatorial consideration, making this a measure the governor could kill by not signing it within 30-day period, which just ended.

A pocket veto means there is no written no veto message explaining Cuomo’s (in)action.  **See Update at bottom of post.**

As noted here last summer, this was a classic case in which the broad public interest took a back seat to the special interests of police unions seeking to nullify a unanimous 2006 state Court of Appeals decision affirming the New York City police commissioner’s ultimate power over disciplinary matters in his department.

The bill would also overturn county charter provisions in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties, and in many municipalities with laws or charter provisions designed to ensure that police discipline remains a managerial prerogative. Under a subsequent Court of Appeals ruling stemming from the city PBA case, virtually all towns and villages currently have the right to pass local laws superseding collectively bargained police disciplinary provisions.

As I argued last month in this op-ed piece:

Many New Yorkers sympathetic to police may be inclined to side with the PBA’s agenda. But responsibility for police discipline transcends issues such as [Mayor] de Blasio’s policy changes on stop-question-and-frisk, or the strong feelings aroused by the [Eric] Garner case.

It’s not just that resisting the union’s push is consistent with democratic accountability. Preserving this fundamental managerial prerogative for the police commissioner is in the best interest of the police department. As police historian Thomas Reppetto says, “The NYPD has always run best when the police commissioner clearly was in charge.”

Cuomo will now have his own chance to weigh in. On top of vetoing this clear usurpation of local control, he should send the Legislature a stronger message: From this point on, he won’t sign any bill covering an important statewide public policy issue that is whisked to passage with virtually no notice, deliberation or public hearing.

The governor did not, in the end, send that broader message. But his action–or veto-by-inaction–nonetheless is something for taxpayers to celebrate. The last thing union-dominated New York needed was an expansion of the list of mandatory subjects for negotiation under the Taylor Law.

For more on the origins of the bill, see this blog post.

[UPDATE — Several Capitol news services reported that a Cuomo press spokesman had issued the following statement: “Versions of this legislation have been passed by the Legislature fours times over four different administrations. Each previous administration believed this issue is best left in the purview of publicly accountable elected officials and thus, the bills were not signed into law. At this time, this administration does not see a compelling reason to disagree.”  Which, unfortunately, does not discourage from taking another shot in the future.]

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- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.