The coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats who will run the state Senate released their “rules” Wednesday for governing the chamber for the next two years. And, in a small but important wrinkle, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) holds the key committee chairmanship.
As previously announced, Skelos will share the title of “co-leader” with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who heads the five-member Independent Democrat Conference. The IDC, together with the 30 Senate Republicans and one other Democrat, Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), formed the coalition, leaving 26 mainline Democrats in the minority. (One seat is still being disputed in the courts.)
Klein and Skelos have said they will alternate the title of Senate president (which is a largely administrative function) and will have to jointly agree on what bills come to the floor for a vote.
But if ever there is disagreement, the new rules confer the chairmanship of the “Rules Committee” to Skelos. The Rules Committee controls the flow of legislation — the last stop for any bill before it can be advanced to the floor.
Further, the rules say that it will require a three-fifths vote of the Senate (37 of the 63 members) to change the rules. That guarantees that if the Skelos-Klein partnership sours, the IDC can’t return to the mainline Democrats and have enough members to rewrite the rules.
[UPDATES with Skelos' swearing-in]
One hour before the Senate officially opened the 2013 legislative session, Skelos was sworn-in for his 15th term in the Senate by his brother, Peter, in a ceremony attended by top Republicans, including GOP state chairman Ed Cox. In brief remarks, Skelos expressed optimism about the new governing coalition, saying members would "put aside partisanship."
"This is going to be a different way of governing," Skelos said. "But, in the end, I think it will be a positive way . . . I think it's going to work very smoothly."