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Senate gets back to work, passes new rules reducing leaders' power

ALBANY - In the wake of the recent political power struggle and legislative gridlock, the state Senate approved in-house rules reform measures late Wednesday night that members say will empower the Senate membership by reducing control wielded by party leaders.

Because of the reform vote, senate leadership will no longer have the power to prevent bills from reaching the floor, which officials said was the driving force behind Senator Espada's temporary exodus from the Democratic Party, leading to a 31-31 split in the Senate and a five-week stalemate.

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) lauded the measure as re-empowering state senators - and as progress in restoring the senate's tarnished reputation among New York residents.

"The reforms we past last night will actually make the Senate less dysfunctional and more efficient as it empowers members to bring bills to the floor," she said. "When a bill is in a committee for a number days, now 38 members can agree to bring that issue to the floor whether the leadership wants it or not."

The bill states that regardless of the will of the senate leadership, if a proposed measure has remained in committee for 45 days it can be moved to the floor if 38 senators back the legislation.

Little said this rule change represented a major step forward in building bi-partisanship and making sure that political power struggles are unlikely to bring the State Senate to a halt again in the future.

"I think this is going to increase bi-partisanship," she said, adding that cooperation is likely because a group of senators, regardless of party affiliation, can move bills to the floor without the consent of the leadership.

Little criticized downstate Senators for pushing through New York City Mass Transit Authority funding legislation, on what she called the backs of upstate taxpayers.

But regardless of differences of opinion or geography, for Little the goal is to regain the respect of the constituents of the State of New York following all of the fallout surrounding the stalemate.

"I am glad it's over," she said. "It was very frustrating and damaging to the Senate as an institution and as to what people consider us to be - because so much of it seemed to be just games."

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