Following last week’s shouting match over Rules Reform, which as you may remember, is done every two years at the beginning of a new session. These rules voted on by the members of the Senate govern how the Senate conducts itself over the next two years, including such things as voting for the Majority Leader. The League has over many sessions joined with our good government colleagues to reform how the legislature (both houses) run their respective houses. This includes such things as how resources allocated to every legislator and how many committees there are. This is an integral part of the leadership driven culture in Albany.
Republicans are in the majority in the Senate. A week ago they put forward new Senate Rules through the Rules Committee. A two hour screaming match ensued in the committee and because of the absence of one Republican member they were not able to pass these proposed rules out of committee. The controversy has centered around a new rule that would prevent the Lieutenant Governor, a Democrat, from casting the tie breaking vote in the event of a vacancy in the Senate creating a 31-31 tie. Republicans want this rule change since without the ability of the Democrat Lieutenant Governor to break a tie in the election of a Majority Leader, the Republicans would remain in control of the power of the majority and all that entails. A special election would ultimately be held for the vacant seat, which then again might change the power paradigm.
Fast forward to this Monday, when the Senate was again in Session. These new rules in the form of a resolution passed the Rules Committee and went to the floor for a vote. The debate over rules lasted four hours not ending until 8:30 p.m. As opposed to many debates in the past two years this debate was very civil and there was almost a jovial feel on the Senate floor (clearly the Republicans are glad to be back in charge.) This debate was more an academic, legal debate from both sides of the isle and was one of the more interesting debates I have listened to in years. The issue comes down to Article 3, Section 9 and Article 4, Section 6 of the New York State Constitution. Republicans made the argument that the Lieutenant Governor was not an elected member of the Senate and therefore should not have the ability to break a tie in the election of the leader of that chamber. The Lieutenant Governor is a member of the Executive Branch and the Republicans cited a separation of powers issue. On the Democrat side, Mr. Giannaris made the argument that if the Senate believes that the Lieutenant Governor does not have the power to break the tie, then a constitutional amendment to settle this issue should be put forward since rules changes should not be used to interpret the Constitution. This issue should be resolved either by a constitutional amendment, ultimately approved by the people or by the Court of Appeals which is likely to be the way that this issue will be resolved.
Following the debate, the vote on the rules resolution was 36 to 24 with all all four of the “Independent Democratic Caucus” Members (IDC) voting with the Republicans. This new IDC, include:
· David Valesky, District 49 (Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga)
· David Carlucci, District 38 (Orange/Rockland)
· Diane Savino, District 23 (Kings/Richmond)
· Jeff Klein, Bronx/Westchester
Preceding the lengthy rules debate a 2% property tax cap (S.2706) was passed by a vote of 45 to 17. This was a bipartisan vote, however it mostly broke down to upstate vs. downstate. All 17 dissenters were downstate Democrats: Joe Addabbo, Tony Avella, Ruben Diaz Sr., Martin Dilan, Tom Duane, Adriano Espaillat, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Carl Kruger, Liz Krueger, Velmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, Jose Peralta, Bill Perkins, Gustavo Rivera, Jose M. Serrano, Daniel Squadron, Toby Ann Stavisky. Also important to note that this was Governor Cuomo’s top priority signified by the fact that it was his Program Bill No. 1. Speaker Silver has introduced a same as bill (A.3982), however no action has yet been taken.