The new iteration of the New York state Senate will look different in 2013 with the new power sharing agreement in place between Republicans and breakaway Democrats, and two central New York lawmakers will be in the thick of it.
It's been 20 years since John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, was first elected to the state Senate. In that time, he's pushed for something called the bad faith insurance act that would encourage more negotiations in cases of claims against insurance companies. It has passed the Assembly but never the Senate. DeFrancisco wonders if that could change with this new coalition running the Senate.
"Whether that's something that Jeff Kline may be more interested in doing than traditional Republican leader, whether it's Skelos, Marino or Bruno, I don't know. But it certainly adds a little something to the mix," DeFrancisco said.
This new leadership look goes into effect in January.
Five Senate democrats, called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), broke away from the Senate's democratic caucus because of concerns about leadership. They aligned themselves with the Republican Party in December, creating a coalition with the majority of votes in the body. That's going to mean changes for legislative body of government that, along with the Assembly, makes laws and approves the budget for New York state.
Senator Dave Valesky, D-Oneida, is one of the original members of the IDC, and says the coalition depends on the leader of the Senate GOP, Dean Skelos, and the IDC leader Jeff Klein, working very closely together.
"Those two leaders every day will set the legislative agenda, the calendar, committee agendas, make joint decisions on nominations from Governor Cuomo that need Senate confirmation for example," Valesky said
DeFrancisco believes that the setting of the agendas may offer the biggest change.
"Some items may come on the agenda that may not be traditionally Republican-supported measures, but that doesn't mean that anyone is going to be, and they won't be, required to support a specific measure," DeFrancisco said.
Valesky says some items that never saw the light of the day in the Republican-controlled Senate should move ahead, like raising the minimum wage.
"The Assembly passed that legislation earlier this year, it was never brought to the Senate for a vote. So, it's fairly straight forward and I would think that and other issues, but that in particular, we'll get right to work on," Valesky said.
Raising the minimum wage has been a hotly debated issue in the state in the past and Valesky says that's the point, putting this discussion on the Senate floor.
"Let's have the debates over various policy issues and at the end of the day, either approve pieces of legislation, or if they fail to achieve enough votes, then the bill ultimately fails, but in the final analysis, that's good government," Valesky said.
This move essentially means more power for the Republicans, who are losing their numerical advantage in the Senate, and the IDC Democrats, because the Democratic Party in New York state has been traditionally controlled by New York City lawmakers.
Some in Albany are calling this a power grab.
Republicans and the IDC contend it's just going to be a better way to govern the state. DeFrancisco, who expects to retain his powerful seat as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expects the IDC and GOP to have a real incentive to make this work.
"They don't want to be in a position where the other Democrats in the Senate say 'Oh, see, it didn't work, and we were right, and you're all turncoats.' They want it to work, so they got to rely on Dean Skelos and Dean Skelos has to rely on Jeff Klein and the other independent Democrats. So I think it will work," DeFrancisco said.
Valesky has no doubts that it will mean a new way of doing things in Albany, in a state government that has often been derided and called dysfunctional.
"It's going to be successful because all of us believe we need to do the people's work first and foremost; and this is a way that I think it can happen and be more effective than it has been before, and I'm looking forward to it," Valesky said.