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Divided State Senate spars over abortion rights amendment

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

In a spirited floor fight in the State Senate, Democrats tried once again but failed to get a vote on an amendment on women’s reproductive health care. The argument over Senate procedure led to accusations that some Republican Senators were trying to “mansplain”  the rules to the state’s female Lieutenant Governor.

The day began with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul on the dais, presiding over the Senate. Hochul’s presence is significant because the Democrats and Republicans in the chamber are split into two factions of 31 seats each, and Hochul has the power to cast a deciding 32nd vote on procedures in the chamber.

Republicans still are in the majority in the Senate because they technically hold 32 seats, but one GOP member, Tom Croci is away on military duty.

Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart- Cousins says she and the GOP leadership agreed that Tuesday would be the day when Democrats could present their long-awaited amendment to enact the women’s reproductive health act. The measure, among other things, codifies the abortion rights in the US Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v Wade decision into law.

“We had an agreement,” Stewart- Cousins said. “And that we would present the amendment.”

And she says the process was supposed to go according to long-held traditions whenever the minority party offers a hostile amendment. The majority allows the amendment to be introduced and then holds a voice vote on the measure.

“It’s scripted, and you do the script,”  Stewart Cousins said.

But, that’s not what happened.

The amendment advanced on the floor, and  Democratic Senator Liz Krueger rose to talk about the provisions of the measure.

“May I speak on the amendment?” Krueger asked.

But, Republican Deputy Majority Leader and floor leader John DeFrancisco objected.

“Point of order,” he said.

 DeFrancisco says while the Senate rules say the amendment can be introduced for an up or down vote, the rules preclude actually talking about the substance of the amendment on the Senate floor.

“Whatever rule you came up with, that’s not the rule of this house,” said DeFrancisco, pounding his fist on his desk. “Otherwise we can get up and talk about anything we want on another bill.”

Once again, Senator Krueger tried to speak but was interrupted, this time, by Senate Leader John Flanagan.

“I just want to make sure, do you have a copy of the rules of the Senate up there?” Flanagan asked.

Hochul responded, that yes she did have a copy of the rules, and once again called on Senator Kruger, but Senator Flanagan again objected.

“Madame President I’m still speaking,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan went on to explain his understanding of the procedures.

Finally, Senator  Krueger was cleared to speak. But she was stopped again when Senator DeFrancisco pulled the amendment off the floor altogether.

“I move to withdraw our approval of the amendment,” DeFrancisco said. “And lay this bill aside.”

No vote occurred.

Robin Chappelle Golston, with Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the lobbying arm of Planned Parenthood, says it’s “very disappointing” that the measure was not debated or voted on. And she says the male GOP leaders were “disrespectful” to the Lieutenant Governor and the female legislators.

“There’s no bigger example of mansplaining than what Senator Flanagan and DeFran(cisco) did,” Chappelle Golston said.

Many Senate Democrats also felt the Republican leaders were patronizing toward the Democrats. Leader Stewart- Cousins says her GOP colleagues did not behave with their usual decorum and that there was a “tone” in their responses that she is not accustomed to hearing.

 “They are just so terrified about talking about women’s health talking about women’s rights, all of these things, in 2018,” Stewart- Cousins said. “That they’d rather just walk away.”

A spokesman for Senate Leader Flanagan, Scott Reif, says the GOP was simply following procedure and the dispute was about “adhering to the rules of the chamber”.  He says the Republicans upheld their end of the bargain by allowing the amendment to come to the floor.

Senator Stewart- Cousins says the Democrats will try again to get the amendment on the floor, and won’t rule out attaching the amendment on the women’s health measure to every bill that comes before the Senate.

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