From Turmoil to Triumph and Back Again
November 18th, 2009

There was a sense of accomplishment and competence floating around the Capitol today. The sense was fleeting.

The Senate came to session early this afternoon to consider Leandra’s Law, a bill that makes it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car and expands the use of interlock devices for anyone convicted of a DWI. The bill passed the Assembly last night and the Senate approved it unanimously today after passionate debate.

Paterson quickly moved to sign the bill hours later in a Red Room press conference that featured a bipartisan array of legislators, including Republican Sen. Charles Fuschillo, who worked closely with Senate Democrats to get the bill passed. As one observer put it, “We just witnessed a Kumbaya moment in the capitol.” That sort of sense of accomplishment hasn’t been felt around the capitol for months.

Just days before, the bill’s fate was uncertain, as the its supporters say the Assembly was attempting to “water down the bill” by making driving drunk with children in the car a misdemeanor unless the driver was found to have a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit. But with no deficit reduction plan (DRP) in sight and the media focused on the controversy, pressure grew on the Assembly. Bill supporters say that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was “shamed” into accepting the Senate’s version. Silver denies the charge and has touted passing the nations toughest DWI legislation.

It seemed perhaps more would be achieved today; not a deficit reduction package or anything, but a three-way deal on authorities reform came together and seemed to have a chance of making it through both houses.

The Assembly passed the bill unanimously. Sen. Bill Perkins at first was unsure the Senate would actually vote on the bill today, but soon the word came down that a vote would take place a 6 p.m. after the governor and both houses announced the deal. Before the press conference, Perkins still seemed uncertain the package was set for smooth sailing. “It’s not out of the oven yet,” he joked.

It never made it out of the oven.

As it turned out Republican Senators have issues with the bill, and the Democrats were missing members. Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., returned to his district last night after laughing off this “farce” of a special session. He was handing out turkeys to seniors rather than voting on legislation like Leandra’s Law and authorities reform. So without 32 votes Democrats would have been at the mercy of the Republicans; therefore, a vote was not held.

Legislators remain optimistic that a deal on a DRP is close. But that has been the mantra for the last three days.

Just after the Leandra’s Law press conference, Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson said as he ran to catch an elevator that he “really didn’t know” if the legislature will be voting on a deficit reduction plan any time soon.

Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., said he was comfortable with the time negotiations are taking because, “This is the way government works.” Espada insisted that the governor hadn’t been willing to negotiate on the DRP until recently. Before then, he said, Paterson only wanted the Senate to vote on his proposal. For months Paterson has been asking publicly for legislators input on ways to cut the budget.

Following the announcement of the authorities deal Paterson said that a deal could be possible by tomorrow but he didn’t sound exactly convinced. “I think that if there’s enough hard work tonight, then tomorrow we might be able to reach an agreement. That’s not a prediction that we will reach an agreement tomorrow,” Paterson said. “It’s just that I feel that we’re continuing to negotiate and we just have to lock this down as quickly as possible.”

The Senate is supposed to be back in session tomorrow evening.

By on November 18, 2009, 8:59 pm
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