Lawmakers who live in and around the state Capitol in Albany come to their respective chambers several times per week, and it isn’t just to visit.
The Legislature’s scheduled session ended in June, but a few state lawmakers still take a few minutes out of their days to keep the New York Legislature's balance of power in check.
The state constitution requires the Senate and Assembly to each hold session every three days, or else the Legislature “goes dark,” or they lose their legislative powers, which prevents leaders from calling members back into session without the governor doing so.
It's typically done Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in 90 seconds or fewer with a journal clerk present.
“Otherwise, we’re at the at the whim of the mercy of the governor, and the Legislature as a rule, doesn't like to be in that position,” Assemblyman John McDonald III said Friday.
McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat, was at the Capitol on Friday to meet a group of visitors from Ethiopia, and gaveled in and out in less than a minute well before they arrived.
"It preserves our ability that if something comes up that the Legislature feels they needs to come back and pass legislation, it can continue to do so," he said.
The Legislature has returned for urgent matters, and did for example, after 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008 and others. Lawmakers say there are no official talks to return to Albany later this year, but many have floated returning to accomplish more on housing, which was largely left out of the latest state budget. Republican lawmakers Friday called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to call an extraordinary session to pass legislation to respond to the migrant crisis as the state waits for more federal direction and assistance. It's a job Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, who lives in Albany and represents the state Capitol, carries out in the lower house most often.
That includes Christmas Eve and New Year's, or coming to the People's House after a dental appointment during a snowstorm that caused her to total her car.
“I also remind myself while climbing up those steps not to complain, that I am privileged to represent the district I do,” Fahy said Friday.
It's something she consistently did throughout the COVID pandemic lockdown in early 2020. Laws have been altered since to allow certain legislative procedures to take place remotely when needed, but policymakers say there have not been discussions to change the constitutional requirement of gaveling in to keep session alive.
"It is a power issue or a practice that's been so institutionalized," Fahy said.
Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat, usually handles keeping the state Senate in session — vital as the 63-member house is responsible for evaluating and voting to confirm or deny the governor’s appointments.
It’s vital for the upper house to the Senate also briefly gavels in to session, giving them the right to confirm the governor's nominees even if scheduled session has concluded for the year.
It became common practice in the state Legislature after former Gov. Hugh Carey appointed a controversial member of his cabinet in the late ‘70s he knew the Republican-led Senate wouldn't approve. The move led to a permanent shift in state politics as New York City was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, deepening tensions between the governor and Legislature to address the financial crisis.
Former Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a historian, said before that, it wasn't a practice state lawmakers thought much about.
McEneny gaveled in about 2,500 times over his nearly 20 years in the Legislature.
"It's something that doesn't get extra pay, doesn't have very glorious title other than acting speaker for the day, but it's very important," he said Friday.
A chaplain, who was sometimes accompanied by his wife, used to travel to the Capitol to perform a prayer before the Pledge of Allegiance. During his tenure, McEneny saved the clergymember the trouble, and started to say the prayer himself.
"I said, 'I will promise you there will always be a prayer, whether you're here or not, it doesn't matter the weather," he recalled. "So I did that, too."
Lawmakers say gaveling in is also important at certain times of year to keep legislation moving, which is required to age for three days before it's brought to the floor for a vote without a message of necessity from the governor.
The process counts as a full session day within minutes, but is one lawmakers say is vital to preserve full independence as a state branch of government.