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When he receives his diploma in June, David Evan Markus (MPP/JD '01) can celebrate more than the successful completion of a joint degree. Markus' policy analysis exercise (PAE), "The Empire State Network: Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage for the New York State Legislature," had an immediate impact on public access to government proceedings in the Chappaqua native's home state.
The report, a comprehensive examination of the issues surrounding C-SPAN-style coverage, was the catalyst for a dramatic reversal in the state legislature's longstanding resistance to televising its deliberations live (current coverage is limited to the Internet). Markus found a receptive client for his research in Common Cause New York, who was joined by NYPIRG and the state's League of Women's Voters in endorsing his findings. He examined politicians' objections to televised coverage, made recommendations for its structuring and administration, and analyzed First Amendment issues concerning the use of taped proceedings.
"This is something that the government should allow, and finance-but should not directly operate," comments Markus, who has focused on issues of open government in the past. "A privatized system can provide the necessary, independent, editorial control. With state government as producer, however, the proceedings would be covered by the constitutional right to freedom of speech." As a result, he explains, the tapes could be used for political attack ads, which would inhibit the legislative process.
At a packed press conference in April, Markus refuted legislators' arguments against televised coverage point by point. "They said no one would watch; that it would encourage politicians to grandstand; that it would give minorities a soapbox to make trouble; that it was too expensive."
For example, a task force on televised coverage headed by Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari (D-Albany) had estimated the annual costs of coverage at $30 million. Based on experience in 25 states with gavel-to-gavel coverage, Markus' analysis found the actual figure would be closer to $2.6 million. Forced to concede this and other points on the spot, Canestrari made an impromptu announcement at the press conference that the assembly would pursue an independent producer for televised coverage.
"Students can make a difference if we go about our work professionally, diligently, and maybe with a bit of chutzpah," notes Markus, who won the School's Goldsmith Research Prize for his work and will clerk for the New York Court of Appeals upon graduation. "Legislators and administrators may have a hard time tackling some issues for political reasons, but students have an opportunity to do the research and say the things that need to be said."
Rebecca Medina (MPP2) co-authored "The Empire State Network: Gavel-to-Gavel Coverage for the New York State Legislature."