Confrontation on the horizon as the new legislative session begins

Confrontation on the horizon as the new legislative session beginsExterior view of the New York state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

(The Center Square) – Wednesday was the first day of the 2023 session for the New York State Legislature, and the atmosphere was cordial and light, as evidenced by Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt’s joke that Republicans can select a leader in only one round of voting.

But behind that scene, there could still be some confrontational times ahead for the Assembly and the Senate

In the Assembly, there have been discussions over whether Democrats, who hold 101 of the 150 seats in the chamber, would allow Assemblyman Lester Chang, R-Brooklyn, to be seated.

Chang defeated Democratic incumbent Peter Abbate in November. However, a report last week from the Assembly Judiciary Committee raised questions on whether he met the residency requirements to represent the district. Records mentioned in the report found Chang cited a Manhattan home address, numerous times.

Under New York law, a candidate must live in the county where the district resides for a year prior to the election. Manhattan and Brooklyn are in separate counties.

Meanwhile, the Senate faces the possibility of a contentious vote on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pick to lead the State Court of Appeals, the top court in the state. Hochul announced the nomination of Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle of the New York Supreme Court’s Second Department for the appeals court position Dec. 22.

The Senate must confirm Hochul’s nomination within 30 days of her announcement, and while Democrats control 42 of the 63 seats, there are concerns he might not have the votes.

LaSalle received endorsements from several key Democrats, including Attorney General Letitia James and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx. Still, many progressive Democrats bristled at the pick, citing LaSalle’s positions on abortion and labor issues.

For some senators, Hochul’s pick conjures memories of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s judicial picks. It was Cuomo’s appointees on the Court of Appeals that led to the Democrat’s redistricting plan being struck down. That led to Republicans netting a three-seat gain out of the state’s 26 congressional districts, and helping Republicans take control of the U.S. House.

“We shouldn’t repeat our predecessors’ mistakes by rubber-stamping gubernatorial nominees,” state Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, tweeted Tuesday.

“We have a responsibility to New Yorkers to vote No. Serving in a position of power such as on the Court of Appeals is a privilege, not a right that someone is entitled to.”

Ortt tweeted his concern that some senators are willing to reject LaSalle before even a confirmation hearing takes place.

“As the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, Judge LaSalle’s legal background, judicial experience and reputation should be enough to warrant an opportunity to be heard by the Senate,” Ortt stated Tuesday. “Our Conference looks forward to hearing more from Judge LaSalle and considering his appointment with an open mind.” 

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