Not Your Ordinary State Study Proposal

The New York state Legislature likes to commission studies.

There have been roughly 135 such bills introduced in the 2019-20 legislative session thus far, according to a search of the state Assembly website, of subjects ranging from a study regarding ecological literacy and healthy living curriculum in the state’s schools to a study on the feasibility of creating a burn center in the Kings County Medical Center.

Several members of the state Assembly, including Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, have proposed legislation directing the state Department of State to study, evaluate and make recommendations concerning studies the legislature has commissioned.

Yes, it’s a study to study the state’s studies.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, R-Queens, would ask the Department of State to determine how much in the last five years the various study bills have cost the state, including but not limited to the usual expenses paid to people conducting the studies; how many studies in the last five years have failed to produce and deliver the required reports/information required by the legislature; and how many recommendations in the studies over the past five years have actually become bills, laws or regulations.

The legislation may sound like a joke, but Goodell said there is good reason to undertake such a study. First, governmental agencies already have the authority to study any relevant issue. For example, the Department of Environmental Conservation can study the impact of herbicides on lake management without direction from the state Legislature.

“That’s within the scope and expertise and budgetary authority,” Goodell said. “When the legislature passes laws and directs someone to do a study, there’s usually different reasons for that.”

Those reasons can be to compel an agency to provide information on issues state legislators want so that the legislative branch can propose solutions. One possibility Goodell mentioned of such legislation is directing the state Department of Budget or Department of Taxation to evaluate proposed tax changes and how they might affect state revenues.

A second reason a study might be done is to highlight an issue that the sponsor of the study bill believes isn’t getting enough attention. Goodell had a local example of such legislation when the Chautauqua County Legislature required the county Social Services Department to report back to county legislators on the county’s welfare-to-work programs.

“After they made that requirement, the program began to perform much better because it was getting the public review,” Goodell said. “If I’m not mistaken, the county almost doubled its welfare-to-work participation rate. That’s a very positive outcome of such a study.”

But too many studies, Goodell said, are of a third variety that are strictly political. Some of the study bills proposed in the 2019-20 legislative session include a study on the economic impact of ATV use within the state, widening a bridge crossing in the New York City area, eliminating daylight savings time and the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets.

“This bill on studying the number of studies is a little bit tongue in cheek,” Goodell said. “It’s a little humorous. It will probably never be reported out of committee, but it’s simply designed to highlight the number of studies we call for. I wonder if even the bill sponsors calling for the studies actually read the studies.”

In his legislative justification, Barnwell wrote that the state Legislature approve and the governor signs many bills that require studies to be conducted for purposes of drafting new legislation. The costs of the studies adds up, and Barnwell said the state should have a proper accounting of how much all of these studies have cost. Furthermore, the State should know how many studies have actually been complied with, and how many studies have resulted in new laws/regulations/etc.

“Yes, it is somewhat ironic, and sure, it may get a laugh based on the name,” Barnwell told Politico on Aug. 9. “But at the heart of it is accountability to the people. How effective are these studies based on the amount we spend on them?”