Griffo bill would give each county one senator

Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome. Legislative Gazette photo.

A new bill proposed by the Senate Minority Leader would change the size and makeup of the state Senate, with the hopes of bringing “geographic balance” to New York.

Under the legislation introduced by Sen. Joseph Griffo, each county in New York would elect just one senator, reducing the number of Senate districts in New York state from 63 to 62.

The change would require an amendment to the state Constitution, which requires voter approval.

“Many in upstate New York, and rightfully so, are concerned that their voices won’t be heard now that all levels of state government are controlled by those with downstate and New York City interests,” said Griffo, R-Rome.

According to Griffo, the bill (S.2047) would make each county a distinct Senate district. Each county would have one senator, regardless of the county’s population. If the bill were to pass, the current Assembly districts would not be affected.

The senator is awaiting an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office on his legislation.

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, hopes to introduce the legislation in the Assembly, and considers it to be a “very important bill.”

Griffo said if the bill were to pass, New York’s Legislature would more closely resemble the structure of the federal government, where House districts are determined by population, but each state has two senators. This allows all 50 states in the Union to have an equal voice regardless of the size of their population.

Griffo referenced the Warren Court’s 1964 “One-Person, One Vote” Supreme Court decision in Lucas v. the Colorado General Assembly case that mandated proportional voting in states.

The unintended consequence of that decision was to “disempower” virtually any state resident outside of the immediate vicinity of New York City, Griffo said. His hopes are that this bill would help shift the balance, at least partially, back upstate

When asked about not passing this law when the Republicans had the Senate majority, Griffo said he has been trying to get the bill introduced since 2013 but has had trouble even getting Republican bill sponsors.

The bill currently resides in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has two co-sponsors.

“Not since Tammany Hall has a threat to the future of the balance in our representative democracy been so apparent and so it’s time to propose a remedy. Just like our federal government sought a system that would give each state a guaranteed two seats in the United States Senate chamber, we’re seeking a voice that will make sure each county of New York has a seat in our state Senate,” Walczyk said.