Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is There A Majority Party in the Senate?

Joseph Bruno’s resignation continues to have an impact on the New York Senate -- Senate Republicans now have only 31 votes, putting the majority caucus below the 32 votes previously required to pass legislation. In Bruno’s absence, are fewer votes needed to pass a bill by majority vote?

The New York State Constitution implies that the passage of a bill requires a majority of the number of members elected to each chamber:

…nor shall any bill be passed or become a law, except by the assent of a majority of the members elected to each branch of the legislature.

The National Council of State Legislatures recently took note of this potential problem. Few states are much clearer on the matter, but the Louisiana Supreme Court addressed the issue in 2005 when two state senators filed a petition against the President and Parliamentarian of the Louisiana Senate who had asserted that fewer votes were required for passage in light of two vacancies in the state senate. The Louisiana court’s decision may not bode well for New York Republicans:

“Members elected” and “elected members” in constitutional provisions requiring majority or super-majority of members of senate to pass bills or constitute quorum mean the entire membership authorized to be elected to each house, i.e., 39, not the elected, seated, and sworn members on the legislative day on which a vote is taken; thus, senate vacancies have no effect on counting of votes.

If votes are counted the same way in New York, things could really get interesting. We’ve blogged before about the impact of a more narrowly divided Senate under Skelos’ leadership – turns out that Republican fears about losing the majority may come to fruition well before Election Day.

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