Senator Martin Dilan condemned parts of the process so far as a "farce" and "waste of money." In Albany, Karen DeWitt has the details.
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The legislative task force on redistricting met for the first time since Republicans, who are in charge of the Senate, announced that they would be seeking an additional 63rd Senate seat in the new district maps.
The proposed extra district was first mentioned by Senate Leader Dean Skelos to a small group of reporters on January 4th. Last Friday evening, a lawyer consulting the Senate GOP posted the rationale for the new Senate seat on the task force’s website.
At the meeting, the representative for the Senate Democrats, Martin Dilan, complained bitterly that democrats, who are in the minority in that house, were kept out of the decision. He says he only learned of the website posting, on what he called an “obscure” part of the public site, from the media.
“This was done in the darkness of night,” Dilan said.
Dilan says he’s asked the state’s Attorney General to review the memo.
A 63rd Senate seat would likely help keep the Republicans, who hold a slim one seat majority, in power in the Senate, even though over the last several years the number of Republicans in the state is declining, while the number of Democrats is growing.
The task force has already held 14 public hearings, but they were all before the idea for the 63rd seat was announced, says Senator Dilan, who called the hearings “a farce and a waste of time and money.”
The Senate Majority’s representative on the task force, Senator Michael Nozzolio, defended the hearings, and announced that there would be eight or nine hearings, based on the proposal for the 63rd district. And he says there was nothing secretive about the timing of the web posting.
“Whether it was five o clock at night or five o’clock in the morning, it was placed on the website when it was completed,” said Nozzolio.
Things became heated between the two Senators, when Senator Dilan made a motion to ban anyone who is not directly a legislator or on the task force staff from posting legal memos on the Internet site. The two loudly spoke over one another.
“I still have the floor Senator,” Nozzolio told Dilan at one point, as Dilan continued to talk.
Senator Dilan did not get a second for his motion, neither from Senator Nozzolio, nor the two Assembly representatives on the panel.
Senator Nozzolio, after the meeting, defended the creation of the 63rd district, saying they were only following the requirements of the state’s constitution, pure and simple.
“The point is this, the constitution decides these issues,” said Nozzolio.
Many legal experts say that portion of the state’s constitution, first written in 1894, is much more complicated than that, and is open to interpretation.
Senator Dilan left in disgust, saying he expects that after the new hearings are conducted, Senate Republicans will go ahead with their plans for a 63rd seat no matter what.
“Our only hope is for the governor of the State of New York to veto the lines,” said Dilan.
Governor Cuomo in 2011 threatened to veto any district lines that were gerrymandered and politically partisan. He mentioned the threat in a written version of the State of the State message, but Cuomo did not repeat his stance during his speech to lawmakers.
The task force did approve a motion to comply with a new law that says prison inmates must be counted in the districts in which they last lived, instead of in the prisons where they are incarcerated. That shift benefits downstate, largely Democratic districts, at the expense of upstate senate seats held by GOP members, where the inmates were used to bolster population numbers in the primarily rural districts.