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LEGISLATURE DEBATES PLAN FOR FILLING A VACANCY IN ITS RANKS

Reopening a seemingly perennial issue, the Niagara County Legislature is revisiting the question of how it should fill vacancies in its ranks between elections.

This time, the minority Democrats are dubbing the proposal pushed by the Republican-dominated majority caucus "the D'Anna Law," for Legislator Steven A. D'Anna.

D'Anna, who represents Niagara Falls' 1st District, is one of three registered Democrats who generally votes with the Republicans. He started a new job after winning last year's election, which has him out of the area most of the time.

The Democrats claim that D'Anna will resign soon and that the Republicans are looking to change the law so they can continue to control his seat. The county's current law gives power to fill a vacancy to the other members of the Legislature who have the same party affiliation as the former lawmaker.

That would mean the Democrats would appoint D'Anna's replacement if he resigned now. That would reduce the GOP-led majority caucus' margin from 13-6 to 12-7.

The newly proposed law would give the full Legislature the appointment power, although the appointee would still have to be a registered member of the same party as his predecessor.

The Legislature is expected to vote today to call a Nov. 16 public hearing on the new law, which would take effect Jan. 1 if it passes that night. In effect, it would allow the majority caucus to find another 1st District Democrat who would vote with it.

"You have somebody out there you want to replace D'Anna with," Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, told the Republicans during an Administration Committee meeting last week. "Vote (the new law) in and we'll fight you on it."

"We could not give our responsibility to the minority," said Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, who amended the proposed law to require that an appointee have the same registration as his predecessor. The Republicans' original proposal would have allowed the Legislature majority to change the party holding the seat.

D'Anna, reached on his cell phone in Las Vegas, where he said he was at a conference for his employer, said he will consider his future in the Legislature in the first quarter of 2005, the next Legislature election year. He said his family situation, his job and the needs of the majority caucus would be factors.

He sold his house this summer, although he changed his residency to another one he owns in the 1st District. His phone number, as listed in county roster book, is disconnected. He said he uses a cell phone for county business.

D'Anna, an engineer, works for Atwell-Hicks, an Ann Arbor, Mich., development, consulting and engineering firm, and spends much of his time on the road.

Although he has attended most of the formal Legislature meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, he almost always misses his committee assignments.

"I really wish the Democratic caucus would focus on the budget," D'Anna said. "That's a little more important process."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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