Redistricting debate roils Senate
By Casey Seiler
Albany Times Union
March 9, 2011
The furor on the Senate floor stemmed from a brief meeting of the Rules Committee, where Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous informed Bethlehem Democrat Neil Breslin that his petition for a public hearing on the bill had been rejected by the clerk of the committee. Libous offered no further explanation.
Senate rules allow a third of the members of any committee to bring a petition for a public hearing, although it can be rejected by a majority vote of the panel. That vote, however, could prove embarrassing for Republicans, who before last fall's elections signed on to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's pledge to support independent redistricting.
Over Democratic objections, the committee meeting ended after approving a single bill: Cuomo's plan to reform the Power for Jobs program, designed to provide low-cost electricity to small businesses and nonprofits.
Back in the chamber, one Democrat after another objected to the acceptance of the panel's report, arguing that its proceedings had been undermined by the improper rejection of Breslin's petition.
"This has become anything but a democratic institution," said Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, a freshman senator who began pushing for redistricting reform during his years in the Assembly.
Presiding over the chamber, Sen. John Flanagan, R-Long Island, ruled any discussion of the proceedings of the Rules Committee out of order -- which in turn prompted a series of "point of order" calls from other Democrats.
In the end, the chamber voted 36-23 to accept the Rules report, with the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference voting with the Republicans.
Libous was straightforward in his explanation of the reasons behind the rejection of Breslin's petition: "It's very simple: We don't like the governor's bill."
Republicans pointed to the rule regarding petitions that says they "shall be submitted to the clerk of the committee for presentation at the next committee meeting," and argued that this allowed the petitions to be rejected outright by the clerk, presumably at the direction of the committee chair.
Libous said the GOP would not be rushed by the "militant" tactics of Democrats. "We're going to deal with redistricting," he said. "We're going to deal with it on our timescale, not Ed Koch's timescale, not the Senate Democrats' -- who had two years to deal with it; they failed to deal with it."