Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Regarding the current Senate Stalemate

(Edited on 15 March 2010.)

As always, the New York State Senate is where the news is. The Assembly is so boring by comparison these days. When I visited the Legislature some months back, the Assembly was dead, and the Senate lively. The late February night I originally authored and posted this piece, it seems, was no exception. And now, a few weeks later, as I edit this piece, is also no exception

Liz Benjamin reported in late February that there was yet another stalemate in the State Senate. While the mere fact of another stalemate isn't necessarily surprising, the exact topic is, at least to me. Seems there's doubt about whether or not 31 votes out of 61 total Senators is enough to pass gubernatorial appointments.

Writes Liz in the article linked to above:

The state Constitution says that in order for a bill to pass, there must be a majority vote of the members elected to each branch of the Legislature. But the Democrats argue the requirement does not cover resolutions for gubernatorial appointments.

As I edit this piece on 15 March 2010, the issue of what constitutes a majority in the Senate is still a live one, as it relates to the ability of the Senate to pass budget bills before presumptive Senator Jose Peralta is elected in a Special Election to fill the seat vacated by the expulsion of Hiram Monserrate.

Let us leave aside the particular question about appointments, and go back to the passage of bills.

In the February piece linked to above, Liz meant to refer, I think, to Article III, Section 14 of the New York State Constitution, which reads in part:

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

Normally, there have been 62 elected Senators, but right now, there's actually 61, thanks to Hiram Monserrate's expulsion.

31 is a majority out of 61 (about 50.8%).

So....Is there some court case, or some important precedent, or some common and binding interpretation of the Constitution saying that "of the members elected" refers to the total members there should be, even though now there's one less than that now? I looked through the court cases (the legal term is "case law") listed in McKinney's, one of the most popular and respected editions of the Laws of New York State. I didn't see anything on the issue of what constitutes a majority of the members elected.

Is there some part of the Constitution I'm missing entirely? Is there some critical case either not listed in McKinney's (doubtful) or that I somehow didn't notice (possible, I guess)?

Or is this another case of New York State politicians and their staffs not being up for the task they have been elected and appointed to not thinking outside the box? (Another example would be the Lieutenant Governor issue settled by Skelos v. Paterson.)

Sometimes, after all, the conventional wisdom is just what we have because no one's thought of anything else.

Just asking.

-The Albany Exile

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