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Court Orders Senate To Work; Republicans To Appeal

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A judge ruled Monday that all 62 New York State senators must attend a session together Tuesday in the Senate chamber, siding with the governor's attempt to end the political stalemate which has crippled Albany for the past three weeks.

However, State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi's ruling does not say that anything needs to be accomplished in the session.

Republicans say they will appeal the ruling and ask for a stay to postpone the planned 10 a.m. session.

Governor David Paterson brought the suit against the Senate, claiming that the special sessions being held on his orders were not valid under state law, since all 62 senators have not convened at the same time.

"Having sessions as separate groups is a fiction, an illusion," said the judge.

"Each senator who is in violation of the order to come to the special session has violated his or her Oath of Office that they swore to under the Constitution," said the governor at a press conference today following the ruling. "There are extraordinary issues that need to be addressed soon."

The governor emphasized that it is time for lawmakers to get back to business and urged residents to call their senators and demand that action is taken on vital legislation.

"I say this to the people of New York: this is your government and you own and control this government," Paterson said.

There are also questions over the legality of the sessions because the State Assembly has not been present.

Democrats and Republicans have taken the Senate floor separately for six special sessions, but have only gaveled in and gaveled out without acting on any legislation.

The governor met with Democrats during a closed-door session Sunday night, but said the meeting did not result in a solution to the power-sharing struggle that has lasted since the June 8 vote to overthrow Senator Malcolm Smith as majority leader.

Republicans and Democrats previously sued over the contested vote but a state judge refused to rule on the matter and asked legislators to settle the matter among themselves.

The governor says he will continue calling senators back into special sessions until they tackle important legislation still on the table, including mayoral control of city public schools.

Mayoral control of the city's public school system may expire Wednesday, as a group of Democratic state senators proposed today that the divided legislative body only meet to vote on "noncontroversial" bills.

Claiming that they want to set aside questions of leadership questions until next month, the group of Democrats said they wanted the divided State Senate to meet at noon Tuesday to vote on nine bills that would provide the state with $7.2 billion in federal and stimulus spending.

They also proposed that the Senate meeting have rotating leadership.

"It's not about June 8, it's about June 30. That's what's important," said Democratic State Senator John Sampson, citing first the date that 30 Republicans and two Democrats voted to change the Senate's leadership, and then the deadline of action for many Senate bills.

"The Republican Party is completely fixated on nothing other than controlling the State Senate," said Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith. "They want to control the presidency and the majority leadership of the Senate, but yet they want to call that a coalition. We think that's unacceptable and it's also not true."

"Enough is enough. Let's get back to work," said Bronx Senator Jeffrey Klein. "We need to stop arguing about who's in charge. What we need to do is do legislation we can all agree upon."

Republicans offered their own power-sharing agreement, and say it's the Democrats who will not come to the table. They argue anything short of a long-term solution will breed continued gridlock.

"If three weeks isn't enough to resolve an equal-sharing arrangement that's permanent from now until the end of next year, when there will be a new elected legislative body, then I don't know how much time you really need," said Republican State Senator John DeFrancisco.

The nine bills proposed by the Democrats concern health care, child care, jobs and education.

The controversial bill for gay marriage was not mentioned in Monday's Democratic press conference.

Unless mayoral control is renewed by midnight Tuesday, the city will revert to the disbanded Board of Education system.

Both Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that inaction would be devastating.

"Summer school starts July 1st and July 1st those kids that have to go to summer school are kids who really need more help, not less," said the mayor.

Opponents of mayoral control say the system does not give parents with enough input.

The State Assembly passed a version of mayoral control earlier this month that the mayor says does give parents a greater role.

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