Sunday, June 21, 2009

Paterson Calls New York Senate to Special Session -

Paterson Calls New York Senate to Special Session -

Paterson Calls New York Senate to Special Session

ALBANY — After two weeks of having no direct impact on the State Senate stalemate, Gov. David A. Paterson said on Sunday he would call the Senate to a special session this week, but would not include same-sex marriage among the bills to be considered, a move that stunned some of his key constituencies.

The governor’s apparent retreat on an issue he has made a central priority was surprising, especially because the leader of a Republican-dominated voting bloc in the Senate has been eager to bring the issue up for a vote.

Mr. Paterson’s move does not doom same-sex marriage, but makes it much less likely to pass in the short-term. An aide to the governor said Mr. Paterson would still like to see the same-sex marriage bill come to a vote in the coming weeks, but Democratic leaders have resisted holding a vote unless it was assured of victory.

Barring a last-minute settlement between the feuding factions, the governor will convene the special session on Tuesday. The chamber was left in its first 31-to-31 tie after Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat, claimed the title of Senate president when he joined a Republican-led coup earlier this month.

“If the Senators do not cooperate with this order, I will convene a special session every day until they do,” the governor said at a press conference on Sunday. “That includes Saturdays and Sundays. That includes July 4. There will be no excuses.”

Republicans, however, rejected the governor’s latest attempt to mediate the dispute, leaving open the possibility that the two feuding Senate factions could have a combative session when all 62 senators are forced to return to work on Tuesday.

The governor has proposed to have Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman temporarily preside over the Senate; Mr. Espada and Republicans say they already claimed leadership of the chamber in a disputed vote held two weeks ago.

“It makes no sense at all,” said John McArdle, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans. “The constitution is clear that there has to be a temporary president, and we have one right now.”

The governor said Sunday that he wanted to focus on routine but urgent legislation that local governments depend upon, like bills to extend local sales taxes or allow bond issuance. His staff said he would also include legislation to modify mayoral control over New York City’s schools in the list of legislation he submits to the Senate.

“What I wanted to address is those pieces of legislation that are time sensitive in terms of resources that are local government needs,” the governor said. “What’s most important about Tuesday is that we get the Senate working again.”

Mr. Paterson said he would consider calling a second special session to address more substantive legislation, but he did not say whether he would include same-sex marriage on that list and his administration would not commit to including it in a second special session, if one is even held.

The governor’s decision to exclude same-sex marriage from the agenda led to confusion on Sunday among gay rights activists, who were unsure how to reconcile the governor’s words with the private assurances they had received from Mr. Paterson’s staff that the bill would be included.

“Wow. I’m stunned,” said Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat who is one of the cosponsors of the Senate bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. “This is not acceptable. If the governor thinks that we can all end this legislative session without addressing issues like marriage equality, I think he’s badly mistaken.”

Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly, said, “I have received assurances from high up in the governor’s office that if he’s creating a list, marriage is on it.”

“I remain confident that the bill is coming to the floor this week,” he added.

But Mr. O’Donnell added, “there are a lot of moving parts here.”

Lobbyists and lawmakers who have been advocating for same-sex marriage and working with the governor to muster enough votes to get the bill passed were under the impression as recently as late last week that the bill would be included on the agenda of the governor’s special session. These people said they had assurances from the highest levels of the Paterson administration that the governor would direct the Senate to act on the bill.

The Empire State Pride Agenda, the gay rights group, called the exclusion of the bill from the agenda an insult.

“Not to include marriage for same-sex couples as a priority for Tuesday’s extraordinary session is an insult to millions of gay and lesbian people and their families,” the pride agenda’s executive director, Alan Van Capelle, said in a written statement that accused the governor of reneging on his pledge to make the legislation a top priority. “We hold the Governor and the Senate to these commitments. We expect and deserve a vote on marriage equality this week.”

The governor’s move was unexpected given his repeated and forceful statements in recent weeks that the bill should come to the Senate floor for a vote. As he implored senators to settle their differences and come back to work, he listed same-sex marriage as among the critical issues that needed to be resolved before the end of the legislative session.

Same-sex marriage has been one of the governor’s signature social issues. When he introduced the bill in April, he initially drew sharp criticism from some gay rights advocates for saying that the bill should be voted on this session, regardless of whether it was certain to pass. Though many same-sex marriage supporters — especially Senate Democrats — were opposed to allowing the bill come to a vote unless its passage was assured, they had come to believe in the last few weeks that the governor’s call for an up-or-down vote was a good move.

It remains to be seen whether anything will get done this week.

The last day of the Legislature’s regular session is Monday. The governor has the authority to call lawmakers back for a special session, and he sets their agenda, but they are not compelled to bring any of the legislation to the floor for a vote. He has been increasingly exasperated as his agenda has been derailed and he has been unable to persuade lawmakers to come to an accord.

His move will succeed, at least, in bringing Democrats back to the Senate chamber. For the last two weeks, the Democratic caucus has boycotted the proceedings amid a leadership dispute with the Republicans, who claim they now control the chamber’s leadership posts.

But calling a special session does not assure that the sides will be agree on who presides over the chamber.

“We don’t need special sessions,” Mr. Espada said in a statement Sunday, adding, “What we do need is all 62 Senators to show up for work.”

No comments: