It’s a rare feat in the New York State Legislature, but today it happened—a bill failed in the state Senate.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, was the subject of debate and a bit of legislative maneuvering in a heated exchange on the Senate floor before eventually failing 27-26, six votes short of passage.
The legislation would have capped the cost of subsidized housing to 30 percent of an AIDS or HIV patient’s salary. It passed the Senate in a late-night session in 2009, when the chamber was in Democratic control.
Duane, who is HIV-positive, could be seen trying to wrangle Republican votes on the Senate floor while his Democratic colleagues appeared to be stalling, standing up one-by-one to explain their vote. When it came time for Duane to speak, he started speaking about the merits of the bill, before an aide quickly covered his microphone and whispered into his ear.
Duane then asked to withdraw the vote. That sparked a heated floor debate between top Democrats and Republicans, with the GOP arguing the bill couldn’t be withdrawn since the vote had already been taken, but not announced. Democrats, meanwhile, contended Duane could take back the bill, something of a sponsor’s privilege.
After some public bickering—and an offer to withdraw the bill with unanimous Senate consent, an unlikely outcome rebuffed by Duane—the acting Senate president announced the bill’s defeat.
Duane accused Senate Republicans of misleading him, saying several of them congratulated him earlier in the day for the bill apparently having the votes to pass.
“I’m holding my head up high,” Duane said in a phone interview. “While I’m sad that it didn’t pass, my conscious is clear and this is a prime example of the worst possible dysfunction of the way the Senate works.”
Eight Senate Democrats, however, were absent from the chamber at the time of the vote.
“There were eight Democratic members absent,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, said. “Had they been here, it would have passed. It’s pretty simple.”
Duane had hars words for Libous, who leads the GOP floor efforts. “Tom Libous is a bully,” Duane said.
Defeated bills are quite rare in New York state government. The last one occurred a year ago, according to New York Public Interest Research Group database whiz Bill Mahoney. That was a bill related to New York City rent regulations.