Jan 16, 2013 — The unique new governing coalition in the New York State Senate passed its first test, on the first full day of session, when Senators approved a sweeping gun control package.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the five-member faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference, took a gamble breaking away from the rest of the Democrats and forming the dominant governing coalition with the now-30 Republican senators. Senator Klein admits that many believed the first test would be the success or failure of the gun control package, for which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed strongly.
"And it that's the case, I think we passed with flying colors," Klein said. "The result is the strongest gun law in the nation."
Senator Klein says working with the GOP senators actually improved the package of bills. He says in addition to the tightening of the assault weapons ban, which Democrats sought, Republicans fought for enhanced criminal penalties for the use of illegal guns.
"Negotiation is not a dirty word, it's a part of effective governing," said Klein.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and other GOP senators were strategically silent on the gun measure for most of the long day. Senator Skelos finally spoke at around 10:30 p.m., shortly before the vote was taken. Skelos was able to point to provisions in the bill that the GOP liked, and to downplay the assault weapons ban, which might cause backlash in more conservative Senate districts.
"This is going to go after those who are bringing illegal guns in the state, who are slaughtering people," Skelos said. "It's going to keep people in jail that shouldn't be out on the streets."
Senator Skelos was asked whether, if the Republicans had sole control of the Senate, they would have put the gun bills on the floor for a vote.
"I don't speculate retroactively," Skelos said. "But nobody thought gay marriage would [come] to a vote."
Republicans controlled the chamber when they permitted the vote to legalize gay marriage in 2011. Three of the four GOP senators who provided swing votes are no longer in office.
In both the gay marriage and the gun control vote, Republicans conceded to put the legislation on the floor, but they did not have to provide the majority of the votes to pass it.
Many GOP Senators voted no, including Senator Betty Little who represents the North County (in fact, all four senators representing the North Country voted no on the legislation), and Senator Tom Libous who represents Binghamton in the Southern Tier.
And not all were happy about the results on the first day of the new Senate governing alliance. Senator Kathy Marchione, of Saratoga, who beat out pro-gay marriage Senator Roy McDonald in a primary, complained that rank and file members had little time to examine the bill.
"We get legislation on our desks for less than twenty minutes," Marchione said.
The message of necessity is a tool used by the governor to forgo the required three-day waiting period for a bill.
And Senate Democrat Ruben Diaz said, in a statement, that the new coalition used the other Democrats, who have been consigned to minority party status, in order to get the bill passed.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says she agrees that without her members, the gun package would never have become law.
"We made the difference. Democrats passed the bill," said Stewart-Cousins.
Sen. Stewart-Cousins says many of the ideas in the bills were first proposed by Democratic Senators. But she sees the vote as evidence that her conference and the independent democrats will eventually reconcile, the current governing coalition will falter, and the Democrats will eventually control the chamber.