It took until the wee hours of Friday morning, but members of the State Senate finally found a way to meet and pass urgently needed bills.
The Senate met as a complete body for the first time in a month because the Democrat who flipped to the Republicans in exchange for something good for himself flopped back to the Democrats in exchange for something good for himself.
Pedro Espada of the Bronx, under investigation for allegedly steering state money to a not-for-profit that he runs, came back to the Democrats in exchange for being named Majority Leader. The Republicans had originally lured Espada with the promise of becoming Acting President of the Senate.
The other Democrat whose defection started this month-long political pie fight, accused woman-beater Hiram Monserrate, had already wandered back to the Democrats, tying the chamber at 31 votes for each side.
The return to political status quo occurred because four Hispanic Democrats, including Monserrate and Espada, met privately over the past week to try to figure out what to do. The four had, earlier in the year, threatened to defect if they didn’t get a leadership role and if a gay marriage bill came up for a vote.
Governor David Paterson’s decision to appoint a Lieutenant Governor (who signed his oath of office last night) may have also played a part. Though Republicans claim the appointment of Richard Ravitch is illegal and they’re challenging it in court, the risk for them was that a court would agree with Paterson. That would leave them stuck with Espada and his demands, unable to push their reforms package forward, while the Lieutenant Governor could vote to break some ties.
So the Senate Thursday night got busy passing bills — more than 100 of them — but not without a bump in the road.
Republicans claimed the Democrats promised to pass immediately a package of rules reforms that would take away many of the advantages of being the majority party. Democrats said the Republicans were lying, that they told the Republicans the reforms would be taken up next week, after critical bills were passed.
The Republicans then decided to gum up the works. They used a procedure that would have forced up to 2 hours of debate on every measure — remember, there were more than 100 measures on the docket — to show their displeasure.
The leaders of both parties shut down the session for a while and, after a closed door meeting, issued this statement:
We as leaders of our respective conferences have agreed on a framework for historic rules reforms that will help us move forward to improve the operation of the state Senate.
The reforms encompass many of the recommendations of the Senate Temporary Committee on Rules Reform, as reported on April 21st as well as reforms advanced on June 8th which we believe will create a more open, bipartisan and member-driven body.
These reforms are long overdue. They give each individual Senator the means to effectively represent their constituents and assure each Senator will be treated fairly and with respect so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability.
The rules will empower the membership and enable all 62 members a greater opportunity to get their bills moved out of committees and onto the floor for a vote.
There will be greater public notification of bills on committee agendas and greater notice on active lists for bills scheduled for a floor vote. Committee votes will be posted on the Internet and there will be new CSPAN style government programming to give citizens a greater window into the legislative process.
We have agreed that the Senate administration will be fair and nonpartisan, including access to services such as printing, mailings and provide for equitable allocation for staff.
We hope to conference these reforms and act on them as soon as next week. By enacting these reforms we hope to make the Senate a more effective body to better serve the people of this state.
Among the issues to be worked out next week: How much pork barrel money minority Republican Senators will get for pet projects in their districts. The day the coup attempt happened, a month ago, Democrats were moments away from passing the annual pork barrel bill. It gave just 10% of the money to Republicans, the same split that Republicans had given Democrats for decades when they were the minority party.
State Senator Darrel Aubertine of Cape Vincent, who represents Oswego County, said in a statement:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“TodayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s announcement means that we will move critical pieces of legislation to protect jobs, help our local governments and access stimulus money for education and housing. I remain committed to putting the needs of the people ahead of politics and that means every resident in this state no matter who represents them in the Senate. This does not change the fact that moving forward we need to continue working to correct the inequities of the last 40 years. An agreement to share resources must be resolved.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Among the items approved by early today was the extension of the Power For Jobs economic development program. Sales tax extensions for the city of Oswego and Oswego County were also approved. And a measure allowing the town of Schroeppel to repay taxpayers overcharged some special assessments was approved.