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Hochul calls gridlocked state Senate 'reprehensible and cowardly'

ALBANY – Gridlock, the reliable friend of the state Capitol, continued in full display Thursday in the Senate where feuding lawmakers once again could not muster enough votes to pass even a single bill.

Partisan bickering raged as Democrats and Republicans – effectively deadlocked at 31 members apiece – found themselves publicly able to agree on only one thing: they were both outraged, rhetorically speaking, at the other's behavior.

How bad is it? A bill relating to concussion rules for sports programs at private schools was defeated. In Albany, that just does not happen because majority parties only permit those bills guaranteed to pass to come onto the floor for a vote.

If a silver lining is needed, the Senate did honor some basketball players from Skidmore College during its brief session Thursday.

Before the fighting began, senators also passed en masse dozens of noncontroversial resolutions honoring various constituents for job retirements, attaining Eagle Scout ranks, wedding anniversaries and, for one person, being named as grand marshal of a parade, along with proclamations declaring June 5 as Animal Advocacy Day and congratulating Honduras, Brazil, El Salvador and Bolivia on their independence holidays later this year.

It is a time for libertarians to rejoice: A bill has not passed the Senate now since May 16. In the Assembly during its two session days this week, 44 bills passed.

The situation has been caused, chiefly, by the decision made earlier this month by a Suffolk County Republican, Thomas Croci, to return to active duty in the Navy. Senate Republicans insist he can, and should, return to Albany until the end of session scheduled for June 20. But, he hasn’t, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Thursday would say only that Croci’s situation “remains an open question."

With Croci gone, the conference that has been in control of the Senate – Republicans plus a lone breakaway Democrat from Brooklyn – now has 31 members. So, too, does the Democratic conference. Thus, gridlock.

Democrats have sought to take advantage of the situation by threatening to introduce hostile amendments to expand abortion and contraceptive coverage in the state. On Wednesday, the first day the Senate was in session in a week, Republicans gaveled out before any legislation was called for a vote.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has a constitutional right to preside over the Senate, waited in her office off the Senate floor as the floor spates raged. Senate Democrats have been hoping to use Hochul, a Democrat, to side with them on a procedural move to bring the reproductive rights measures to the floor.

But when Hochul did emerge onto the floor Thursday, Republicans adjourned the session.

Then, it was finger-pointing time. Democrats appeared to fume that Republicans were putting politics ahead of New York. Republicans countered with the same rhetoric.

“They demonstrated they want to have politics rule the day. It’s embarrassing. It’s disgusting," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, called the Republican actions “an assault on our democracy."

After senators left town, Hochul emerged from her office to tell reporters that she thought ending session when she stepped onto the floor was “reprehensible and cowardly." She said “women of this state are sick and tired” of the Senate blocking passage of the reproductive health measures. Hochul said she wasn’t sure if she would be back to the Capitol each day the Senate remains in session in June.

There are now 11 session days left before the 2018 session comes to a scheduled close on June 20. To give an indication how busy that period would normally be, the Senate last year during its final three weeks of session passed 1,445 pieces of legislation.

Beyond Albany’s spectator sport of watching Democrats and Republicans call each other names, there could be some practical effects if senators do not end their jockeying. There are hundreds of measures pending that might directly affect localities across New York. These “local bills," as lawmakers call them, affect everything from local fire and school districts to county bond programs, land transfers by localities and residential parking permit programs.

In Western New York, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, said he has a measure that is already agreed to – but not yet passed by the Senate – to permit Lackawanna to hire a second judge who resides outside the city. He said a colleague, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, also a Democrat from Buffalo, has a measure awaiting Senate approval to speed up state aid payments for the Buffalo schools for charter school expenses that now don’t get returned to the city until the following fiscal year.

Ryan said the hundreds of bills now on hold because of the Senate situation “are the housekeeping issues that allow local governments around the state to function."

“They’re not big. They’re not sexy … but they affect every region in the state right now," Ryan said of the stalled local bills.

Therein lies the trade bait. Optimists believe the Senate compromise will involve a simple trade: Senate Republicans permitting Democrats to get passed far more of their local bills than might ordinarily be afforded the minority party in the chamber.

Privately, lobbyists were mixed on the situation. Some saw opportunities to kill bills they don’t want to see passed if senators remain at odds for the next three weeks. Others, though, are already on a frantic mission to pop out their individual causes, such as the gambling industry intent on legalizing sports wagering before the session’s end or the New York State United Teachers union to decouple student test scores from teacher evaluation programs.

But, for now, togetherness is not a commodity. On Thursday, Republicans sought to characterize Democrats as anti-family for not killing the measure to expand concussion protocols for adolescent sports programs now at public schools to private schools. “Because of politics, they vote no,’’ Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, snapped on the Senate floor.

But Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, noted the obvious to his colleagues about the new needs of Republicans to have Democratic cooperation. “They don’t have the votes to pass a single thing in this chamber," he said.

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