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Tensions ease, but Senate stalemate continues

The business of the evenly divided New York State Senate remains stalled, as advocacy groups pressed for their bills to be acted on before the session ends in two weeks.

The Senate is split between 31 members of the Democratic conference and 31 members in the Republican conference. Democrats have allied with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who under the constitution presides over the Senate. They believe that Hochul can provide the tie-breaking vote in procedural matters, like whether a bill can be allowed to come to the floor for a vote.

In a contentious session on Tuesday, Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan was among several Republicans who questioned Hochul’s interpretation of the rules.

“A fifth-grade reading of the rules would demonstrate that every point that was raised was a valid point of order,” said Flanagan, who accused the lieutenant governor of “ad-libbing.”

They argued over an amendment to codify the abortion rights in the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade into New York state law.

Women’s groups and some Democratic senators have accused the Republicans of being patronizing to Hochul. But Flanagan said there’s nothing unusual about sharp words on the Senate floor.

“If I need to raise my voice to make the point that we have rules for a reason, I’m going to do so,” Flanagan said. “And I’m not going to apologize for it.”

Hochul, a former congresswoman from western New York, said she’s not ruffled by the opposing party’s actions, and is not going to engage in “schoolyard politics.”

“I’ve been talked down to on the floor of the United States Congress, so this is not something new to me,” said Hochul. “It’s not about me. I can handle anything, and people know that.”

The Democrats finally succeeded — on their third try on Wednesday — in getting the amendment on the floor.

But the Republicans, who still hold the majority in the chamber, ruled that it was not germane to the bill it was attached to, an anti- animal cruelty measure. Democrats were not able to muster enough votes to reverse that determination.

Hochul was not in the chamber. A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor said the leaders of both conferences met earlier on Wednesday, and based on their discussions, Hochul did not preside over the Senate on Wednesday. Spokeswoman Haley Viccaro said Hochul “respects the Legislature and how they decided to proceed.”

Meanwhile, no major bills are being passed or even discussed among the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Several groups made a last-minute pitch for their measures outside the Senate chamber.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse pushed for the Child Victims Act, which would give victims a chance to take court action against their abusers. They say they won’t accept a bill currently backed by some GOP senators that would not include a one-year window of opportunity for survivors to pursue cases that occurred as long as several decades ago.

Former police detective Rory Forestall worked many such cases during his career, and he said the victims need justice.

Forestall noted that “it’s been a little dysfunctional in the Senate the last couple of weeks” before suggesting senators could rally around the Child Victims Act and approve the measure, which already passed the state Assembly.

“Saving kids, what could be more noble than that?” Forestall asked. “And use that to show that the Senate can get its job done.”

Teachers in the New York State United Teachers union are pressing for a bill to decouple the results of standardized testing from performance reviews. NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said the bill gives control of teacher evaluations back to the local school districts.

“There’s 55 senators supporting this bill,” Pallotta said.

Pallotta said the Senate stalemate is frustrating.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.