Senate Still Playing Chicken
June 16th, 2009
Republicans tried again today to hold a Senate session, but spent most of their time in the Senate chambers reading the names of the Democratic senators who did not show up. Of course, session could not be held as there were only 31 Senators present. Democrats want Republicans to enter into a power sharing agreement before they attend. Both sides did their best today to lay blame for the mess at each other’s feet.
Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr., looked just a tad lonely sitting by himself on the Democrats’ side of the room, but as soon as non session ended he was joined by a gaggle of reporters.
He told them he was looking into legal action that would force his fellow Democrats to attend session. He said Demcorats were violating their “fiduciary responsibility.”Espada had previously called on Gov. David Paterson to order Democrats to session.
Espada and Republicans have been emboldened by Justice Thomas McNamara’s decision to dismiss the Democrats’ case, declining to insert himself into legislative matters. Democrats have decided not to appeal.
The Republicans, with Espada, assert that McNamara’s action legitimized the vote that made Espada Senate President and Sen. Dean Skelos Majority Leader. They say it’s simply up to Democrats to “show up to work.”
Democrats say that McNamara’s ruling is not significant and that Republicans need to acknowledge that the Senate is split 31 to 31 by entering into a power sharing agreement. Until that happens it seems Democrats won’t attend session.
But Espada said he is friendly with new Democratic conference leader Sen. John Sampson, whom he has reached out to. He said he had been texting with Sampson “all night long.” Espada told me later that he hoped Democrats and Republicans might be able to find common ground on issues that affect municipalities, issues such as the sales tax increase in the New York City budget and mayoral control of schools.
When told about Espada’s claims that he was looking into legal action to bring Democrats to session, Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Woman Voters responded, “First he better take care of some of his own legal issues.”
Sen. Frank Padavan complained that Senate staff had been directed by Secretary of the Senate Angelo Aponte not to process new pieces of legislation and apply bill numbers. Skelos pleaded for Senate staff who perform the duties that keep the body running—stenographers, for example–to return to their positions no matter what Democratic leadership was directing them to do.
Later, in his office, Padavan told me he had tried to introduce legislation pertaining to mayoral control of schools in New York City. He said his office was told, “We’ve been ordered not to print any bills.” He insisted that Democrats are “violating their constitutional duties” by not showing up to session to vote, while Republicans’ constitutional rights are being violated because they are being prevented from introducing legislation.
When Blair Horner was told of that accusation he responded, “If true, that would be bad.”
Austin Shafran, spokesperson for Sen. Malcolm Smith, was amused by the allegations. He laughed loudly when I posed a question about the topic over the phone late this evening, and then apologized for the laughter. He asked if he could return the call later.
Paterson continues to call on both sides to come together to hold a session overseen by a neutral party to address an agreed-upon slate of legislation that would include bills that pertain to municipalities and are scheduled to sunset shortly. Paterson suggested retired Chief Judge Judith Kaye as someone who could oversee such a session. But neither Republicans nor Democrats seem particularly interested in the offer.
However, Espada and Skelos issued a press release this evening saying they have spoken to Paterson about ordering Democratic senators who do not attend conference to return their salaries and per diems to the state.
It’s not clear how any of this might change before Republicans try to hold session again tomorrow at 3 p.m.By David King on June 16, 2009, 7:42 pm
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