Big debates in N.Y. may have to wait until after election
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Facing fall re-election campaigns and an increasingly volatile political climate, state lawmakers are expected to adjourn their 2014 session without voting on high-profile issues including medical marijuana, public campaign financing and a minimum wage increase.
Lawmakers returning to the Capitol on Monday hope to wrap up their work for the year June 19. While they’ll no doubt cast votes on dozens of issues important to particular industries, communities or special interests, the big votes and big debates may have to wait.
Campaign finance, the Dream Act and other liberal causes would have been a tough sell in the state Senate even before Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared political war on the coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats who control the legislative body. In exchange for the backing of the liberal-leaning Working Families Party, Cuomo vowed to work to give Democrats control of the Senate, either by defeating Republicans or by targeting any renegade Democrats that balk at returning to the party faithful.
The promise injected a significant dose of partisanship in the waning days of the session and worsened the outlook for many high-profile bills.
"Obviously, it’s going to be more challenging," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, adding that "the more controversial" topics sought by liberals wouldn’t be brought up this year. "The governor indicated throughout this entire session that politics would start on June 20, the day after we’re adjourning. Obviously he accelerated that."
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said while she is hopeful that something may come out of the last two weeks of the session, it’s unlikely that controversial bills like the 10-point women’s equality agenda will get accomplished.
Still, with the outcome of hundreds of bills hanging in the balance, it’s possible lawmakers could work out last-minute deals on the bigger topics.
"Two weeks is a lifetime in political terms, especially the last two weeks," said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens.
Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads the faction of Democrats who control the Senate with Republicans, said it would be wrong to let politics -- or Cuomo’s threats to the Senate majority coalition -- get in the way of legislation. He said he’s still holding out hope that medical marijuana, or public campaign financing, could pass this month. He said he’d also like to pass proposals to help homeowners facing foreclosure and go after elder abuse.
"We still have two weeks to govern," Klein said. "The political season has not started yet as far as I’m concerned."
Manhattan Democrat Sen. Liz Krueger ruled out any major legislative splashes but didn’t cast medical marijuana legislation entirely aside.
While the Compassionate Care Act is making its way through the Senate, the medical marijuana bill sponsor, Sen. Diane Savino, says she is amending the bill, the second time in the last few months, to quell some of the opposition and hasn’t ruled out a vote before session concludes.
An analysis of the 2013 legislative session by the New York Public Interest Research Group found that 66 percent of all Senate bills were passed during the last month of the legislative session, with 36 percent of those bills passed in the last week. Most of the legislation was small municipal-based bills.
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh has a long list of items he’d like to see pass before adjournment: legislation to require CPR training in high schools, the minimum wage increase, changes to runoff election rules and a proposal to make ballots easier to read.
"My goal is to push to have the conversations now," he said. "We should not prematurely declare the session adjourned. We don’t stop until it’s done."
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