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Vague rules muddle succession

How will the new shift in power affect how votes are decided in the state Legislature? Why hasn't the 70-year-old state constitution been changed to make the order of succession process simpler?"We've never had an experience with this," said Richard Briffault, a professor of legislative studies at Columbia Law School, referring to the rapid change of power when Spitzer became the first governor of New York to resign because of scandal. Under the guidelines of the state's 1938 Constitutional Convention, the most up-to-date version of New York's Constitution, the president of the majority party of the state Senate - in this case Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs) - assumed the acting powers of the lieutenant governor when the governor resigned.The lieutenant governor serves as a tie-breaker if the Senate is locked, but since he has been thrust into the role of acting lieutenant governor Bruno may or may not have double voting power. Under Article IV of the Constitution, the acting lieutenant governor "shall have only a casting vote,"- a phrase that is open to different interpretations according to Briffault."It seems that it's odd that someone would vote twice, but I don't know," he said. "The language is pretty vague about his powers in the Legislature."Representatives of Bruno have said he would have two votes as acting lieutenant governor in a deadlocked Senate. But Christina Dickinson, the deputy counsel for the senate Democratic minority, told the TimesLedger in a phone interview that Bruno had no such privileges.Briffault said since the Senate now has a Republican majority, the issue of a tie probably would not occur since members tend to vote along party lines."There has never been a tie party in close to 40 years," he said.Briffault added that it is unlikely that the rules would be amended to be more straightforward since such an effort would drain valuable time and resources from state legislators."In order for a constitutional change to pass it has to be passed by two separate legislatures and the voters," he said. "The earliest it would happen would be 2009, which would be close to the end of Paterson's first term."Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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