Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving On: What to do About Deadlock

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a useful guide to deadlocked state legislative chambers since 1966, and what the chambers did to resolve the issue and keep legislative business moving.

In most deadlocked legislatures, the parties have negotiated a co-leadership agreement similar to that proposed by Senate Democrats last week. With the GOP-Espada coalition continuing to rebuff the Democrats on this front, we thought it might be a good time to look at other methods that states have used to work through a tie (setting aside a tiebreaking vote by the Lieutenant Governor, of course).

Several states have negotiated a different type of power-sharing agreement. In Arizona, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, and Virginia, different leadership posts are selected by different parties, so that one party selects the presiding officer, one selects powerful committee chairs, and so on. Of course, with New York’s weak committee system, it’s not clear if getting to pick committee chairs is really a fair trade for floor leadership unless the agreement is accompanied by reforms that strengthen committees.

Florida and Maine have both employed a unique twist on the power-sharing agreement wherein each party holds the presiding officer position for part of the term, and the first person who takes the post agrees to an unconditional, irreversible resignation at the conclusion of her negotiated period of leadership. A negotiated resignation facilitates a smoother transition and avoids questions about the constitutionality of electing a new presiding officer in the middle of the term. (The question of whether it is constitutional to elect a presiding officer when one has already been elected for a two-year term is, of course, at issue here in New York.)

South Dakota, Montana, and Indiana all have statutes that allow the Governor to choose legislative leaders in the event of a tie, but of course, enacting such a statute would require a functional legislature, and neither party is likely to throw so much deference Patterson’s way.

If all else fails, there’s always a good old fashioned coin toss, used to break ties in Wyoming.

The bottom line? If Senators aren’t willing to leave the leadership question up to the whims of fate or the discretion of the Governor, they’re going to have to figure out a way to work together.

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