Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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Dutchess legislature leaves its rules intact, in close vote

POUGHKEEPSIE – The super majority held by Republicans on the Dutchess County Legislature disappeared with last November’s election, which saw four GOP seats switch to the Democrats.  Republicans still hold a 14-11 majority, and had their way Tuesday night in blocking any changes to the legislature’s operating rules.

It was close, 13 to 12. 

One Republican sided with the Democrats, who were particularly unhappy with the standing provision that legislators who abstain, or are not in chamber for a vote have their votes cast with the prevailing majority when a vote on a resolution is taken.

Pam Kingsley, a resident of New Hamburg, called that provision a violation of the First Amendment.

She also wondered what would happen if in 2020, Democrats become the majority party.

“And these rules will then apply to you,” Kingsley said.  “So I ask, what makes more sense today?  To vote in support of the freedom of speech, to extend yourselves to your fellow legislators across the aisle in true nonpartisan manner, to respect the voices of constituents they represent and eliminate both these rules?  Or, to look like complete hypocrites in 2020 when these rules could possibly apply to you and you want them changed?”

Democrat Legislator Rebecca Edwards agreed with the ‘free speech’ analogy.

 “It’s just a very bizarre rule to me that anyone’s vote would ever be cast for them when they are out of the room,” Edwards said.  “If you’re not in the room, I just think you can’t vote and I do think that there’s a mechanism to respond to people who repeatedly duck out.  I can’t imagine doing that myself but if anyone ducks out, the voters should hear about it the next election.”

Long-time legislator Barbara Jeter-Jackson said she does not recall ever missing a vote and would not want anyone casting a vote for her. 

Republican James Miccio saw the issue attempts by legislators to simply avoid a controversial vote.

“You cannot be absent for just one vote,” Miccio said.  “That’s what this; you can’t be absent for one vote because you don’t want to do that one but then come back and vote again later for one that’s not as controversial.  So, if you want to skip out from a vote, then leave the building and be absent for the rest of the meeting and be counted as absence.”

The lone Republican “no” vote came from Joseph Incoronato, who tried to introduce an amendment to limit censure to being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor resulting in a jail sentence.  The amendment did not receive a second.

At the last legislative session, Incoronato was censured for comments made over a year ago that were interpreted as suggesting rape victims are sometimes partially responsible for making themselves easy victims. 

He raised the ‘freedom of speech’ issue again, saying he was being suppressed for voicing an unpopular opinion. 

 


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