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State lawmakers move to keep Albany open during coronavirus

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It's not clear how many people may go out of commission at once with the coronavirus pandemic, but one thing is for sure, lawmakers in Albany want to make sure that government will still be able to function.

That means ensuring votes can continue, even if members of the Assembly or senate cannot be physically present to cast them.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes are pushing a resolution they say will pass as early as Monday that would provide for "special temporary procedures" during a declared state of emergency.

That means for most votes, everyone is expected to be a "yes" by default, and can only register as "no" by actually voting "no."  It also means no one on the Assembly floor can speak more than once on any bill or amendment, and even then must be listed to 15 minutes. 

The rules also would allow members of the Assembly to attend remotely through a teleconference call or an online videoconference call.  They'll also be able to submit requests to speak electronically if they are not physically in the Assembly chamber. 

"During these extraordinary circumstances, it is critical that the people's house is able to continue to do the people's work," Heastie said, in a release. "These changes will preserve the integrity of New York's legislative process in a way that will also protect our members, our staff, the hardworking staff of the capitol, and the families we all go home to. This is a historic step that will help saves lives and support New Yorkers."

The senate, however, expects to be in full session beginning Monday, although it will look into allowing remote procedures where necessary in light of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"The senate majority will be in Albany tomorrow for conference and will begin the process of passing budget bills this week as bills are ready," senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement on Saturday. "During these unprecedented times, our state government requires continuity, and New Yorkers deserve leadership and action. 

"Throughout the week, our process will establish appropriate protocols involving social distancing, and (Sunday) we will pass a resolution authorizing limited remote voting as necessary."

The senate did indeed pass such a resolution on Sunday in a session that lasted less than five minutes. The senate is expected to resume work on Monday.

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