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A 'parliamentary coup' paralyses New York Senate

This happens in the world's oldest democracy as well. Two lawmakers, one accused of corruption and the other of slashing his girlfriend's face with a broken drinking glass, are at the centre of a bizarre 'parliamentary coup' that has paralysed the New York Senate for weeks, stalling action on critical bills.

world Updated: Jul 04, 2009 13:11 IST

This happens in the world's oldest democracy as well. Two lawmakers, one accused of corruption and the other of slashing his girlfriend's face with a broken drinking glass, are at the centre of a bizarre 'parliamentary coup' that has paralysed the New York Senate for weeks, stalling action on critical bills.

A threat by Governor David Paterson to keep the lawmakers in town over the Independence Day holiday weekend and withholding their pay has failed to end the 26-day standoff over control of the chamber. A one-hour closed door meeting Friday between the Democrat governor and leadership of the two parties could not bring about a power-sharing agreement to end the standoff since a June 8 coup by a Republican-dominated coalition with the help of two dissident Democrats.

The Senate is now split 31-31 after one of the dissidents, Hiram Monserrate, indicted last March by a grand jury on six counts of felony and misdemeanour assault on his girlfriend Karla Giraldo, defected back to the Democratic side.

The other key player, Puerto Rico born Bronx Democrat Pedro Espada, has several pending investigations and three of his employees were convicted of campaigning for him during work hours at a non-profit health clinic started by him, a violation of state tax law.

As the standoff continued, the Senate Tuesday witnessed another bizarre scene as Democrats began voting on a host of bills and declaring them passed after claiming that a Republican lawmaker walking through the chamber gave them the required quorum.

Senator Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican, acknowledged he walked through the chamber to get a can of Coke because the Senate parlour had been blocked off. But he says the Democrats' claim to a quorum is a fraud.

Friday's leadership meeting followed a three-minute Senate session Thursday where both sides agreed to adjourn without passing any bills as they have done daily since June 30.

Paterson has vowed to call special Senate sessions, which lawmakers are compelled to attend by court order, until the dispute is settled.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said he will start withholding senators' pay, a step urged by Paterson earlier this month to increase pressure on lawmakers to settle their dispute.

Senate inaction is hurting many towns across state. Local governments, excluding New York City, face the loss of at least $741 million if lawmakers don't approve measures extending their authority to collect sales and other taxes, according to a report by DiNapoli's office.

New York City may lose $902 million, most of it from a foregone 0.5 percentage point rise in its sales tax needed to balance its $59.4 million budget.