The legislative bills creating a New York State history commission have been reintroduced in the State Legislature, but advocates of the law say that it is unlikely to be voted on in 2015.
The law would establish a state history commission with a range of powers and a mandate to produce a statewide cultural and historical resource heritage plan.The bill has the support of the Museum Association of New York (MANY); but outside a roundtable meeting last spring, no other organization has publicly expressed its support.
The proposed law would establish an unfunded, and unpaid, 14-member “Commission On New York State History” which would include the commissioners of Education, State Parks (OPRHP), the Chair of the New York State Cultural Education Trust, the State Librarian, the State Archivist, the director of the State Museum, the director of the NYS Division of Tourism, a representative of one of the state’s Native American tribes, and six appointed members.
Two members would be appointed by the Governor, two by the Temporary President of the Senate, and two by the Speaker of the Assembly. Commission members would serve four-year terms; appointed members are required to have professional expertise in a field relating to history. The commission would be required to meet four times per year.
“A commission like this would help coordinate and focus New York’s state history programs, strengthen local and community history programs, and raise the public profile of state and local history,” according to Bruce Dearstyne, a former State Archives and State History Office staffer who has been advocating for better organization and leadership among the state’s historians.
“This bill is an important first step towards the State actually taking an active role in coordinating and promoting its historical resources,” Devin Lander, Executive Director of MANY told The New York History Blog.
The bill also calls for the commission to coordinate a free, annual “New York State History Conference”, that would take place in a different area of the state each year, and a state history fellowship program. The State Commission would be required to coordinate, recruit, and train a corps of volunteer “fellows” to support the work of “non-profit history organizations.”
Perhaps most importantly, the law would also require the development, and submission the Governor and State Legislature, of a “Statewide Cultural Asset And Heritage Resources Management Plan”. The newest version of the bill extends the deadline for submission of this plan from September 1, 2015 to September 1, 2017.
The original bill was introduced in the spring of 2014. There has been no movement on the bill since a May 2014 roundtable discussion organized by Assemblyman Englebright, who was recently made chair of the busy Environmental Conservation Committee.
“What we, in the field, need to do is make a concerted noise to push for the bill to move,” Devin Lander said, adding that “the history community needs direction and needs to be making a noise on the local and state levels.”
Lander said that MANY is advocating this year for the State History Commission bill, along with the Museum Education Act. He said MANY is planning a “big push” in 2016, which will include an “Advocacy Day” at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
“It will take time and effort to successfully pull off,” Lander said about passing the bill, “it will also take the effort of those concerned with these issues traveling to Albany and making a strong argument.”
“Equally important is for those concerned with these issues to be meeting with their elected officials in their local offices to remind them of the local importance of historical organizations,” he said.
“The bill’s sponsors need to hear from the state’s history community about support and about any changes that need to be made,” said Dearstyne. “Securing more co-sponsors in both houses of the legislature is also essential.”
The bill was reintroduced in the Assembly (A03274) by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and in the Senate (S00710) by Senator Jose M. Serranto (D, WF-Bronx). It currently has no co-sponsors in the Assembly, and just four in the Senate (Breslin, Carlucci, Latimer, and Sampson).