ALBANY—More than 12 hours after it was scheduled to convene in session, the State Senate limped into the chamber and passed a slew of new rules, the product of weeks of negotiation.
"I'd say on the whole they're a substantial improvement," Senator John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said. "They are less than what we hoped for, but far better than what they were."
The rules will allow 60 percent of the chamber's members to move a bill to the active list under a petition for consideration. It will also allow for committees to be made up to reflect the partisan makeup of the entire chamber, and ranking members will have the ability to call witnesses in hearings.
This is the specific language regarding staff allocations: "All senators shall receive the same base allocation of funds for staffing their offices. Additional funding for responsibilities associated with committees and leadership positions shall be allocated within the amounts available for committee and leadership staff; such amounts shall include, at a minimum, a budget sufficient to appoint a staff member with expertise in the committee's subject matter. The funding for the minority conference central staff shall not be less than 33 percent of the funds allocated for all central staff."
As a member of the minority conference for two years," Senator Craig Johnson, Long Island Democrat, said, "I felt that minority bills were not given a fair shake. This resolution will give bills from both sides of the aisle a fair hearing before the entire New York State Senate."
There was also an agreement on the money. A member-item resolution that heavily favors Democrats ($77 million versus $8 million) was also approved, along with assurances that special economic development funds previously appropriated when Republicans controlled the chamber would also go through. Going forward, the minority will be allocated one-third of member item funding and the majority two-thirds. A clause in the rules guarantees "all senators shall have equitable access to the resources of the Senate," including communications resources and office supplies.
Term limits of eight years are placed on leaders and committee chairs.
I didn't stay the entire time, but the resolution was acted upon around 3 a.m. Thursday. (Yes, that's right, they did rules reform in the dark of night.)