Shortly before noon, as the 31 Democrats were preparing to hold a regular session of the State Senate, Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican, set out to get a soda from the members’ private lounge, off the Senate chamber. Finding the outside hallway blocked by reporters, Mr. Padavan would later say, he took a shortcut across the Senate floor just as the Democrats were preparing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Because he was present on the floor, Democrats now claim, Mr. Padavan effectively “checked in” for the session, granting Democrats the 32-member quorum needed to conduct business. And with that, they began passing dozens of pieces of legislation, including bills like sales tax extensions and bond authorizations that were set to expire at midnight tonight.
The move has set off a new round of recriminations and debate in the State Capitol, with Democrats insisting the bills have been lawfully passed — and that Gov. David A. Paterson should now sign them — and angry Republicans denouncing the session as fraudulent and inappropriate. The two sides had already met earlier Tuesday for an extraordinary session called by Mr. Paterson, but adjourned without conducting any business.
“The only reason I went through the back of the chamber is because the front of it was blocked by all of you,” Mr. Padavan told reporters afterward. “I think it’s totally fraud, and they know it. It’s childish.”
While Mr. Padavan admitted that he had been in the chamber, he said that he could not be counted as part of the quorum because he had left before the pledge, which typically precedes Senate business. Both sides agreed that Mr. Padavan was not present for any of the actual voting.
Democrats insisted that Mr. Padavan, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, had gone through the chamber on purpose.
“Frank Padavan is a multi-decade veteran of the New York State Senate,” said Craig M. Johnson, a Long Island Democrat. “He knows the rules.”
(In a sworn affadavit distributed later to reporters, Mr. Padavan amended his story in only one respect: He said he had gone to the members’ lounge for a cup of coffee, not a Coke.)
While Democrats voted on the bills, Governor Paterson, holding a separate news conference, said he would not sign any of the bills the Senate passed on Tuesday afternoon, citing the uncertainty about whether Mr. Padavan could be counted toward the quorum.
With Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appearing with him on a television screen, via satellite, Mr. Paterson implored the Republicans and Democrats to settle their differences and pass an extension of the law that gives the mayor control over the city school system before that law expires at midnight.
“Once again the do-nothing Senate has exceeded our greatest fears and contempt,” Mr. Paterson said. “The Senate again is in turmoil, now about whether people were in or out of the chamber.”
But matters may not be so simple. Most of the legislation that the Democrats claim to have passed in their session was first passed by the Assembly; under state law, the Assembly must now, in effect, accept those bills as legitimate before sending them up to the governor for his signature. Senate Democrats said that Assembly had so far declined to do so.
If the Assembly did accept the bills as legitimate, Mr. Paterson might be forced to either veto or sign them. Because the regular session ended earlier this month, Senate Democrats said, the governor can no longer veto bills simply by refusing to sign them.
With quorum in their eyes established, but no Republicans remaining on the Senate floor to object or demand a debate, Democrats quickly passed dozens of bills by unanimous consent. Because Mr. Padavan had been counted as present, but did not remain in the chamber to cast a nay vote, he was automatically counted as a yes vote.
Most well-debated items, like a bill to reauthorize mayoral control of New York City schools, were not on the list of bills for the session. But Democrats did hold a vote on a bill to increase the New York City sales tax; the bill failed, 19-13, with most Democrats voting against it and no Republicans on the floor to vote for it.
Mr. Paterson has called the Senate back into another extraordinary session for 7 o’clock tonight and said he would continue to call them into session through the Fourth of July holiday, if necessary.
Senate Republicans were irate at the Democrats’ move.
“I think this is a total joke and a disgrace to the institution,” said Dean G. Skelos, the Republican leader.
Does it get any better than this?