Watch: NY senators battle over.. cell phones?

ALBANY - The state Senate's first major debate of 2017 wasn't about abortion rights, ride-hailing apps, SUNY tuition or any of the other weighty issues expected to get plenty of attention at the Capitol this year.

It was about cell phones.

The state Legislature officially kicked off its 2017 session Wednesday, with the state's 213 lawmakers sworn in before legislative leaders delivered their opening remarks.

But the Senate and Assembly also had to pass sets of in-house rules for their respective chambers. And new language governing the use of cell phones in the Senate spurred more than 20 minutes of debate.

The Senate rules, penned by the Republicans who lead the chamber, prohibits the use of cell phones to take any photographs or videos in the Senate chamber, galleries or lobbies.

"Cellular telephones shall not be used to take photographs, videos or perform any other recording function in the Senate Chamber, galleries or lobbies except those photographic and recording functions performed by official Senate photographers and videographers, without the permission of the Secretary of the Senate," the Senate rules read.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, pounced on the rule, painting it as an attack on free speech.

"Cell phones are important, not just for, like, group selfies," Hoylman said. "But it's a way for a lot of us to connect with our constituents."

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, countered, saying the ban is necessary to maintain "decorum" in the august chamber.

"It's not like we're operating in a vacuum here," DeFrancisco said. "This session is being video'd live, live-streamed, to the entire state and the world, if anyone's interested."


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