ALBANY – State Senate Republicans are confident they’ll be able to take care of business when they return to Albany Monday for the final weeks of the legislative session.
“We’re 32 strong,” said Sen. Jim Seward of the Republican’s narrow majority in the chamber, which shrunk from 40 members at the end of March when they still enjoyed a coalition with the now disbanded Independent Democratic Conference. The eight former-IDC members abandoned their power sharing agreement with the Republicans earlier this month and are rejoining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference.
Seward, a central New York Republican, pointed to the passage of their budget resolution this year without support from the IDC or mainline Democrats as evidence that they can accomplish their legislative priorities with their current majority through the end of session. “That may be a forerunner to many issues moving forward,” he said.
It’s unlikely that the state Senate will consider any of the priorities previously advanced by the IDC, which had input into what reached the floor during their power sharing arrangement. “Absent that partnership, I wouldn’t expect their priorities to receive as much consideration,” said Seward.
There is a general consensus that critical local priorities, like tax extenders or home rule bills, will make it through the Senate before legislators return to their districts in June. Additionally, it’s likely the chamber will continue to pass a host of recurring one-house bills that are priorities for the majority members.
Seward, who is chair of the Senate’s insurance committee, is still hopeful that legislation will be passed that modernizes the state’s insurance laws. He pointed to driverless cars as an area where new insurance regulations might be needed.
Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, is still pushing to have the state Assembly pass the anti-bullying Jacobe’s Law, and is advocating for legislation on prostate cancer screenings. Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, is focused on addressing the opioid epidemic and making New York more affordable.
Despite these goals, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, is anticipating a quiet end to the session and doesn’t expect any major agreements on policies between the state Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
If he could pick, the chamber would act on voting reforms. But Breslin said he recognizes that will only happen in January if the Democrats win a clear majority in the November elections.
The Democrats could get a little closer to that majority on April 24, when special elections are held for two vacant Senate seats. Democrats will pick up the seat in the Bronx, but the Westchester County race is a toss up at this point.
If Democrats make a clean sweep of the special elections their ranks will grow to 32, a majority in the 63-seat chamber, but their total would include Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who conferences with the Republicans to give them the slim majority.
Amedore, who sits next to Felder in the chamber and enjoys a close relationship with him, is confident that Felder will continue to conference with the Republicans. “We’re in a good place,” he said.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic unity deal will officially be sealed Monday as the former-IDC members rejoin the Senate Democratic Conference. This will likely include a shake up on the floor, as former IDC Leader Jeff Klein, who is assuming the role of deputy to Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will take over the job of Democratic floor leader from Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens.
Breslin anticipates the integration could be a difficult adjustment for the former IDC members, especially for the four who have been a part of a separate conference for more than seven years.
“It must be hard for them. They struck out on their own and now they’re coming back,” he said.
Breslin is personally apprehensive about the Democratic merger because the IDC tried to oust him from office in 2012. “They came at me. They didn’t come at me to make me feel good,” he said.
As the Democrats begin the rocky road to recovery, Breslin predicted Stewart-Cousins will help smooth out the process.
One step to speed up the reunification would be to rearrange the Democratic seating chart, which currently has the eight former-IDC members in the back row by themselves. Breslin said it could make sense to end the isolated seating and spread those members among other colleagues.
Democrats also need to work out staffing arrangements, committee posts and their new leadership structure.