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Different Joke, Same Punchline

by David King on May 18, 2011

For two years, Senate Demo-crats made fools of themselves while they controlled the majority. Their infighting, inability to pass important legislation and that messy coup made them look incapable of leadership. The Republicans have control this year, and they may have their house in order, but it does not make them any more effective as leaders or any less of a joke. Are Senate Republicans moving on important pieces of legislation? With less than four weeks of session remaining, the answer is: absolutely not. They aren’t moving on anything because it is better for them to stall, bottle up and ignore issues like ethics reform, redistricting reform, same-sex marriage and the renewal of New York City’s rent laws. So what are they doing instead? Believe me, you don’t want to know.

Just how intelligent does the Republican majority think their constituents are? Not very.
On Monday, with 15 legislative days left in session, Republicans decided to fit the vote on a bill that would provide “an exemption to certain uniform fire prevention and building code standards for public buildings and governmental facilities by allowing the placement of fresh cut evergreen trees therein” into their busy schedule, which included honoring high-school wrestling standouts.
In other words, the bill was designed to amend the fire code to let public and governmental buildings display Christmas trees. In fact, the memo that was circulated with the legislation made the intent much more obvious: “PURPOSE : This legislation would allow the seasonal display of fresh cut Christmas trees and wreaths in public and government buildings.”

The memo was actually a source of some tension during debate on the bill. Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan objected to the bill because she was concerned about the trees with lights being a fire hazard. Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse responded with a line of questioning implying that Krueger was merely opposed because she is Jewish. Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn asked DeFrancisco if he would support the bill if it only allowed Christmas trees. The always-salty DeFrancisco responded, calling Squadron’s question, the most “asinine” he had ever received during his time in the legislature.

At that point, Albany’s Sen. Neil Breslin rose to ask for civility and decorum.
Squadron pressed DeFrancisco as to whether he had seen the memo that circulated with the bill. DeFrancisco admitted he had not. Squadron then pointed out that the memo made it clear that the bill was just about Christmas trees, not about celebrating other holidays with evergreens. DeFrancisco snottily responded that the legislation did not include the language of the memo and therefore the memo was irrelevant. Squadron pointed out that legislative memos do play a large part in determining legislative intent, should a bill be legally challenged, or when applying a law. DeFrancisco finally gave up the charade and said that he didn’t care if anyone was insulted by Christmas trees and said he would dress up as Santa Claus.

The bill passed with only three dissenting votes—Sens. Liz Krueger, Carl Kruger, and Daniel Squadron.

Do I need to point out the absolute insanity of introducing and debating a bill in the middle of May, in the middle of a budget crisis and of a major economic downturn that deals with decorating for the holidays? Did anyone else notice that the Empire State Plaza was shut down this winter? No ice skating—crappy metal barricades poorly barring the entrance—because the state couldn’t afford to staff the facility? That the entrance to the Legislative Office Building has been shut down because of staffing cuts, forcing lobbyists and visitors to cram through two entrances at the Capitol? There are labor concessions and the looming possibility of layoffs, and yet the Republican Senate is worried about decorating for the holidays.

The bill memo states that it carries no fiscal implications, but who is going to buy the tree, who is going to care for it and make sure it is not a fire hazard? What was the real motivation to introduce the legislation? That, too, can be found in the bill memo. “The New York State Christmas Tree Growers Association reports that approximately 1,400 tree growers produce over 3,000,000 trees in New York State each year with annual sales of 72 million dollars. The Christmas tree industry is an economic asset to New York State and trees should be allowed to be displayed in public and government buildings.”

What fine work the Republican Senate Majority is doing!

More legislators should have voted against this legislation. Why? Not only is the bill insensitive to religions other than Christianity, but it is a waste of time. And on that ground alone any legislator with integrity should have voted against it to show that they can do better than wrangle over simple, pandering bills. With 13 legislative days left in session, the future of the Republican Senate Majority is being written. And with each day they fail to act on substantive legislation, it becomes increasingly likely the Democrats will be back in charge in 2013. Let’s hope they will figure out how to legislate by then.