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Gotta Know the Rules

One of the best lessons I learned in law school came from my civil procedure professor. He often reminded our class that every lawyer lived by the same set of rules — it was how well you understood those rules that provided your advantage.

Rules govern all parts of our lives and every organization functions via a set of rules, such as by-laws, policies, or a charter. The NYS Senate and Assembly are no different. Every two years, they enact detailed rules at the beginning of each legislative session that govern their procedures and establish their committee structure. I suspect they’ve been poring over them this past week to figure out how to apply these rules in a potentially very different political environment.

The Senate rules specifically recognize and give authority to the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), since they shared leadership with the Republican caucus in order to maintain majority control. The rules didn’t anticipate a “Plan B” in the event of a major caucus change — and now the IDC has dissolved.

Changing the rules this year doesn’t appear to be an option since a 3/5 majority, or 38 senators, must approve a revision. Even if Senate Democrats win both special elections next week and succeed in wooing Senator Simcha Felder to re-join their caucus (he’s said publicly he’ll stick with the Republican caucus), Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will be six votes short of a 3/5 majority.

It seems Senator John Flanagan will continue to serve as the Senate’s Temporary President and Majority Leader regardless of how the special election count shakes out, but how will they govern? We will continue to keep a close eye on this situation as things unfold. However, come January 2019, the newly elected senators will return to re-craft a new set of rules. Given all that’s at stake, I think it’s safe to say a major rewrite will be in order.