June 9, 2009 / 9:20 PM / 10 years ago

Control of NYS senate in dispute, deadline looms

NEW YORK, June 9 (Reuters) - Control of New York’s Senate was still in dispute on Tuesday, leaving major bills up in the air a day after Republicans and two rogue Democrats launched a coup to gain control of the chamber.

Republicans turned a mundane Monday session into a leadership battle when they proposed a motion to replace Democratic Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and won by a 32 to 30 vote as two Democrats voted with all 30 Republicans to name Republican Senator Dean Skelos to the post. For more, see [ID:nN08345244].

The move came with the legislature set to adjourn in less than two weeks. The list of pending issues for New York City include a sales tax hike and mayoral control of schools. For the state, gay marriage, a cost-saving pension plan for new hires, a spending cap and property tax relief are all unresolved.

Senate Democrats, who last November broke 40 years of Republican control of the chamber, said they will challenge the Republican move but cannot delay a vote for long.

The state constitution says “neither house shall without the consent of the other adjourn for more than two days.”

Much of the battle turns on whether the Republicans properly elected new leaders — Skelos as Senate majority leader and Senator Pedro Espada as Senate president.

Even if the Senate Democrats, who say the session was adjourned before the leadership vote, file and win a so-called point of order suit, Tom Golisano, a billionaire who helped persuade the two Democrats to jump ship, said the GOP would just call another vote, which they would win again.

“I don’t think they have a leg to stand on,” told reporters in Albany. More Democrats will vote with the GOP, he said.

Skelos told reporters he doubted the courts would “get involved with the rules of a legislative branch.”

The Republican loss of the senate by just two votes was part of a national pattern in which President Barack Obama’s victory swept Democrats into office across the country.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Smith, who says he remains the majority leader, told an Albany radio show a lawsuit was definitely a possibility. The GOP broke Senate rules by not submitting their leader-changing bill to a committee or gaining Smith’s consent, he said.

Espada switched to the Republican conference because Smith blocked funds for two “sham” groups linked to Espada employees, said Shafran, Smith’s spokesman.

A spokesman for Espada, whom the state attorney general is probing over a nonprofit group he ran, was not available.

The other Democrat who switched, Senator Hiram Monserrate, faces a felony charge for assaulting his girlfriend. (Reporting by Elizabeh Flood Morrow in Albany and Joan Gralla in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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