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Senate coalition announces Sandy relief plan

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Albany/HV: Senate coalition announces Sandy relief plan
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State lawmakers announced a new bi-partisan plan to help with Sandy recovery during a tour of the storm ravaged Rockaways. YNN's Zack Fink has the story.

NEW YORK STATE -- Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, who are now partners in controlling the agenda of the State Senate, got a firsthand look at the destruction in the Rockaways, one of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Sandy. The leaders announced a new bi-partisan Senate task force to assist in the recovery and eventually draft legislation to help those most affected.

Republican Senator Andrew Lanza and Democrat Malcolm Smith are the task force co-chairs.

Smith said, "I believe, and I'm sure that Senator Klein and Senator Skelos can tell you, this is probably the most significant task force that the Senate has put in place since its existence."

Smith is the newest Democrat to break away from his party and join the Independent Democratic Conference. Over the weekend, Al Sharpton held a rally where African American lawmakers said the new governing coalition, not only ignores the will of the people who voted for a Democratic majority, but as a result, also excludes black and Latino senators from holding leadership positions and committee chairmanships.

Klein said, "This new coalition is not an exclusive club. It's open to anyone, Democrat or Republican, who is serious about governing."

"I believe that both Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will deal with that issue. They are looking at who would be appointed to those committees and make sure there is some diversity there. And I think everyone should just relax for a minute. Just give it a chance to move forward," Smith said.

Klein says no decisions have been made on committee chairmanships, but he did not rule out granting some to non-IDC Democrats. Skelos did not address it directly.

One reporter asked, “But Senator Skelos, how do you respond to criticism about a lack of diversity in the new coalition?"

Klein responded, "Again, I think I stated before, I think it's something important that we need to address. It's not only about committee chairs, it's about issues that affect all New Yorkers."

This was the first public meeting the new coalition leaders have had. Whether or not they can work together to pass progressive legislation remains to be seen, but this might be an indication that they can always find common ground when it comes to providing relief for storm victims.

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