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Circus without a ringleader

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Call it the greatest show on earth, but do not call it a functioning branch of government.

As warring factions of the state Senate raised a cacophony Tuesday in attempts to hold simultaneous sessions on the floor and the chamber remained without a clear leader for the third straight week, the Queens members of the state Assembly looked on in exasperation.Key bills backed by the Queens delegation languished during the stalemate.

The Assembly held a marathon legislative session Monday night to approve a raft of bills Gov. David Paterson charged the Senate with handling, including mayoral control of city schools, reforms to state lobbying laws and exempting schools from funding penalties due to days of instruction lost to the swine flu outbreak earlier this year.

“They probably have a couple hundred of our bills that they have right now, so it’s frustrating, because we’re still here and we’re still passing things,” Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said Monday. “Personally, I don’t care who’s in control, but they’re all elected officials and right now they’re not doing the work of the people.”

Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), who acted with Republicans June 8 to overturn the Democratic majority leadership in a vote the Democrats maintain was illegal, remained on the GOP side of the aisle Tuesday as talks over sharing power in the Senate broke down.

Sens. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and George Winner (R-Elmira) each tried to preside over the Senate that afternoon as neither side acknowledged the other during a special session called by Paterson to address crucial legislation. The last day of the Senate’s original meeting calendar for the fiscal year was Monday.

A visibly angry Paterson, who has threatened to convene special legislative sessions every day during the summer until the remaining bills are voted on, called the Senate’s behavior Tuesday “farcical” and said he would hold another special session Wednesday for issues including gay marriage.

“I feel they should be punished for what they’ve done,” he said, “until they remember that they work for the people, not for themselves.”

Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), the other Democrat who allied himself with Republicans over what he called a lack of reform in the chamber under Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), returned to the Democratic fold last week.

Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), said the chamber was resigned to being called back later in the summer to address follow-up legislation.

“We’re all of the mindset of, ‘Look, we’ve done our job. Now we’re going to break,’” he said of their attitude toward the Senate. “You deal with the issues, we don’t want to be part of this circus. You deal with it because we had nothing to do with it.”

Peralta said the chaos in the Senate has threatened the passage of several bills key to Queens residents, including reform to the state rent decontrol regulations and one of his own bills that would requires mortgage lenders and brokers to provide consumers with a mortgage bill of rights pamphlet which must be read and signed by the consumer prior to applying for a mortgage.

“It’s already been passed by the Assembly and we’re sort of sitting there stuck,” he said.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said several of his bills are now in limbo, thanks to the Senate, including the Hospital Closure Planning Act, which would require the state to hold hearings in communities affected by a hospital’s closing and issue a report within 60 days.

“After St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed, the state didn’t do any real assessment to determine the impact of these closings on health services in these communities,” he said. “To this day, no one from the state has come into south Queens or the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst area and presented a plan for making up the loss of services in these communities.”

Anna Gustafson contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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