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Senate coalition has yet to prove itself: Qns. pols

Lawmakers in Albany explain their votes before passing New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act. AP Photo by Mike Groll
TimesLedger Newspapers

During the first day in session for the state Senate’s new coalition government, Democrats and Republicans moved swiftly last week to pass the strongest gun laws in the nation in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

But Queens lawmakers were not so quick to hail the bipartisan effort as the dawn of a new, progressive age.

By the end of the week, Democrats held a commanding 33-30 majority in the upper chamber after a contested upstate race was decided in their favor. But the party was effectively denied a majority voting-block in December when a group of five rogue Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference announced they had reached a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans.

At the time the party leaders said they would work together on a progressive agenda, and on Jan. 14 they did so when the Senate passed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act by a vote of 43-18.

“I know that the flavor of the month is the IDC and whether this is a test or not. I hope we don’t get bogged down on whether this is a test or not a test,” said Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), a member of the conference and co-author of the state’s new gun laws.

The bill passed the Senate with help from 11 Republicans and all five members of the IDC, but Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the bipartisan support may have had more to do with the emotional nature of the gun debate than it did with party politics.

“I think that because of the overwhelming support for gun control all over the country it would have been hard for the IDC to oppose it,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the first test. That’s still yet to come.”

In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out an ambitious agenda he said would reinstall New York as the country’s progressive beacon, and Smith said he believed the coalition government would be judged on whether or not those initiatives, which include affordable housing and women’s rights, would be allowed to come to the floor for a vote.

“The real test is going to be if we can get the members of the Legislature to work on the minimum wage, the Dream fund act and campaign finance reform,” he said.

Both houses of the Legislature followed firearms reform by introducing their respective Dream Act bills, though last year’s attempt to provide undocumented students with financial aid for higher education was thwarted by the Senate’s Republican majority, which refused to let the bill come to the floor for a vote.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) still chairs the powerful Rules Committee, a purgatory where more than 300 Democratic bills languished last year.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said it still is not clear under the power-sharing arrangement if Skelos will retain his unchecked power, adding it would be up to Cuomo to apply pressure in order to bring his initiatives up for a vote.

Avella said that despite the back-door deal-making, the Dems can pass legislation, as long as they get the chance.

“The fact is we have a significant number of Democrats,” he said. “There are enough votes to pass a progressive agenda if it comes to the floor.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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