New York State Government may actually have an organization chart somewhere…. but, if it does, it must be pretty complex!
It helps to remember that NYS is actually about the same size, in miles, as France… and, at 19,490,297 people, has almost twice the population of Belgium (or, a little less than a third the population of France). So, there is a lot of government there to keep tabs on!
Here, we will give you just the basics, as they apply to our area of interest.
First: The Executive Branch
The Governor is the head of the Executive Branch of Government. That is the part of our government that is charged with enforcing the laws enacted by the Legislature, and with delivering the services provided by the State (either directly, or by overseeing delivery of those services by contracting companies or local governments– including school districts). The Governor does have some role in the process of making law– he signs bills, or the Legislature must override his veto to bring a law into force without his signature. His office is also responsible for developing an annual budget that serves as a starting point for negotiations about how the State spends its money. But, for the most part, the Executive Branch oversees the implementation of the laws.
It does this through a number of Agencies and Departments, which are responsible for providing services and enforcing regulations. Regulations are the rules that an agency develops to enforce the law– they are more specific than laws, and are developed by the agency in a process that often allows for public comment at various points in the development of the regulations. The Department of Environmental Conservation has been developing regulations to enforce the law about permits for drilling for natural gas. So far, that is the State agency that has put the most work into considering the effects of hydrofracking on the environment, and the Commissioner of the agency, Pete Grannis, is an official that you might want to contact to give an opinion on that process (along with the leader of the Executive Branch, the Governor). There are, however, other State Agencies that may have some involvement with hydrofracking. Many believe that the Department of Health should look at the impact that hydrofracking operations may have on human health in the State. The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is the right agency to contact to ask if land in the State Park in your County will be leased to a gas drilling company.
The Executive Branch is big and complex, and each agency works a little differently. But, they all work for us. You may not find an answer to your inquiry or a place to deliver your comment immediately, but, if you are willing to be persistent, each part of the Executive Branch has a mechanism somewhere in it to answer to the public. With a bit of work on the web, or a few phone calls, you should be able to find the right spot in any agency to make contact.
Second: The Legislative Branch
Compared to the Executive Branch, the Legislature is fairly simple. There are two houses, the Senate and the Assembly. Each New Yorker has just one State Senator and one Member of Assembly (Senate districts are larger than Assembly districts, so, your Senator has more constituents than your Assembly Member– which means it may be easier to get to see your Assembly Member!). You can look up your Senator or your Assembly Member and how to contact either their District or Albany offices. They make the State’s laws, and pass the State budget.
NY State Legislators are considered to be part-time, and many do hold down other jobs in addition to serving in the Legislature. When contacting a legislator, particularly one who does not represent your district, you may not be able to get a personal appointment or phone call. In that case, you will talk with a staff member. It is important to remember that, for the most part, these staff members are generalists who help constituents and others with a wide variety of issues. Unlike a US Congress member, our State legislators don’t have experts in certain subject areas to advise them. Those who chair committees may have some specialized staff, but, for the most part, legislators’ offices are staffed by generalists who deal with thousands of bills and hundreds of issues. Don’t assume a lot of prior knowledge, or the time to study long documents.
The rules and processes by which bills advance in the Legislature are too complex to go into here. However, it is helpful to remember that bills are considered in Committees before being debated by the entire legislature– see the Assembly Committees and the Senate Committees . You may want to focus on contacting the members of the Committee to which a bill iyou are interested in has been referred. Also, since a bill must pass both houses of the Legislature to become law, bills that have only been introduced in one house are in an early stage of development, and are unlikely to be enacted in the near future, even if widely supported in one house.
As noted above, the Governor may veto a bill he does not like, and, unless the legislature can gather enough votes to override the veto, that kills the bill. Another, less obvious way in which the Governor has power over the laws passed by the the Legislature is that he can decline to put the appropriation needed to implement the bill into the budget. When this happens, the bill is still technically the law, but, the envisioned program or service or enforcement operations may not have staff to put the intent of the bill into action.
Third: The Judicial Branch
Both the laws that are enacted by the legislature, and the implementation of those laws by the Executive Branch, can be challenged in NYS’s Unified Court System. The courts are not an area for citizens to take the lead (only lawyers who have passed the very rigorous NY Bar Exam can bring lawsuits on behalf of others in NYS Courts), but the courts are also open to the public, and, at times, citizens have found that watching the proceedings of a case is valuable. There are currently some cases being tried in NYS Courts that have to do with gas drilling rights, and the infrastructure associated with natural gas exploration. There will likely be more cases in the future.