Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Senate Rules Fight -- A First Hand Account

We were present in the Senate Chamber for the fight over rules last night. It was an unusual and pointedly ironic spectacle. Liz Benjamin provided some of the details in the Times-Union but more detail follows for Rules junkies (like us).

As the Senate's rules had expired on January 15, the first order of business in the Senate yesterday was adopting a new set of rules. The Senate Democrats introduced a resolution that would have made the chamber a more open, transparent and representative body by, among other things, banning the "canvass of agreement," whereby a majority of Senators can defeat certain measures by just leaving the Senate chamber (thereby avoiding having their votes recorded as "no.").

For about two hours following the introduction of these proposals, there was a fair amount of pandemonium in the normally placid chamber, as the majority and minority debated over one point: whether individual Senators would have to go on record in opposition these proposed reforms in order to defeat them. Not that there is a problem with transparency in the Senate, or anything.

Senators Duane and Connor, both Democrats, asked for a roll call vote (meaning each member's vote would be recorded) on the Democrats' proposals. Senator Skelos (R), among others, argued that this was inappropriate -- a voice vote was sufficient. David Patterson, who now presides over the Senate in his role as Lieutenant Governor, denied the roll call vote.

In response, Senator Duane appealed the Lieutenant Governor's ruling and asked for a roll call vote to override this ruling (under Senate Rules, a majority of members can override a ruling by the Lieutenant Governor on procedure). The Lieutenant Governor -- having happened to have researched this issue earlier in the day -- found that he must allow a roll call vote of his appeal. Members would have to go on record with their votes.

For the next two hours, both sides argued over whether there would be a roll call vote -- with Republicans theatening to continue to appeal decisions of the Lieutenant Governor all night if they had to. The parties finally compromised on a vote by hands. No votes were attributed to individual members, but a count of "no" votes will be recorded (from what we understand). The number will be 32 -- the exact number of Republicans present in the chamber at the time.

And there you have it -- the new transparency in Albany.

Categories: General, Legislative Rules

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