Issues left hanging as session ends

June 20, 2012

The legislative session that’s concluding in Albany seems to be more about what’s not getting done that what is getting accomplished. As Karen DeWitt reports, agreements were not reached on several key issues.

Governor Andrew Cuomo at this time last year was intensely lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill to legalize gay marriage. This year, he has taken a more hands off approach to the end of the current legislative session.

The governor introduced a bill on how to make teacher evaluations public, but said he would not push the legislature to approve it.

“If the Senate or the Assembly want to pass the bill, great,” Cuomo said. “If not, it will further the dialogue.”

The Assembly plans to pass the teacher evaluation plan, the Senate has not yet decided. 

Cuomo was criticized during an all-night session in mid-March for issuing special messages of necessity to allow the Senate and Assembly to pass bills as soon as deals were struck on topics like a new pension tier for public workers, and redistricting lines. This time, the governor has vowed not to resort to the messages of necessity,

“You don’t want to overuse them,” Cuomo said.

Without the use of the special messages, there can be no down to the wire talks in the final days of the session. If the bills are to be passed by the end of the day on Thursday, then they needed to be finished by midnight Monday.

Cuomo also gave up on pressing for a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The bill, which has the support of New York City’s police commissioner and mayor, was aimed at correcting a problem caused by the city’s Stop and Frisk policy. Thousands of young black and Hispanic men stopped and searched by police have been arrested and received permanent records for possessing small amounts of the drug. Private possession of small amounts of marijuana is considered just a violation, but when the drug becomes public during a police search, the person is subject to a misdemeanor charge.    

The Chair of the legislative Black and Hispanic task force, Karim Camara, says saddling a young person with a permanent criminal record can change the “trajectory’ of their lives for the worse.

“It’s going to impact your ability to get a job,” said Camara. “It’s going to impact your ability to get an education.”.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says he’s reluctant to take steps to make marijuana legal in a vacuum, and would like to see some other substances criminalized first, like synthetic pot and bath salts.

“Bath salts, where people are inhaling this and going around and cannibalizing people,” Skelos said, referring to an incident in Florida where a man high on bath salts allegedly ate part of homeless man’s face.

The Governor says Senate republicans are facing political pressure not to further decriminalize marijuana, Senator Skelos denies that.

Assembly Democrats and unions have been pushing for an increase the minimum wage, and polls show most New Yorker’s back the proposal.  But Republicans in the Senate feared it would hinder job creation, and Governor Cuomo remained neutral in the dispute. 

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver predicts that Republican Senators will change their minds and might even come back to the Capitol before the November elections to vote on the measure.

“The Senate has to reconsider their opposition to what almost 80% of the people in the state of New York say is important to them,” said Silver. “I think the pressure of an election is going to make the Senate consider that bill.”

Last year, Speaker Silver pressed for a continuation of an income tax surcharge on millionaires. He was not successful when the session ended in June, but eventually convinced Governor Cuomo and the Senate GOP to agree to the measure.   

There are some items that have been accomplished in the waning days of the session . Governor Cuomo won agreement on what he said was his top end of session priority, creating a new  agency and new procedures to better protect the disabled in state care from abuse.