Six things to watch on last day of the legislative session
ALBANY—Put on your most colorful suit and order some Chinese food: it's going to be a late night at the Capitol.
Leaders of both the State Senate and Assembly say they hope to conclude their business for the year tonight, and will be passing their last bills well into the evening. There's a good chance the will last beyond midnight, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said they would like to avoid going into Friday's daylight hours.
Governor Andrew Cuomo may make that easier by waiving the required three-day aging period on several key bills, including a suite of legislation agreed to late Tuesday that would combat the growing prevalence of heroin addiction.
Capital is tracking bills that have already passed both houses, but here are six things to follow on the session's final day:
(1) Medicinal marijuana: Cuomo says he still has concerns with the marijuana bill, which in its most recent amended form would allow smoking the drug for various designated conditions provided a patient is over 21 years old. The governor and legislative leaders huddled privately late Tuesday and part of Wednesday, but have reported no resolution. One possible compromise would allow smoking only if a doctor specifically prescribes it, but apparently the governor has not bit. Cuomo also submitted a list of proposed changes that may be difficult to resolve in the limited time remaining.
“I am a pliable person as a general rule. Don’t you think I’m pliable? I’m a veritable Gumby,” Cuomo said when asked how flexible he was on the smoking issue. “However, when it comes to the medical marijuana bill, it's fair to say I’m slightly less pliable than usual, because the consequences are very serious.”
(2) The “clean-up bill”: As Capital first reported on Wednesday, a large bill making technical corrections to the April budget is quietly coming together. Sources following its drafting say it will likely contain capital appropriations for higher education, tweaks to racing and wagering restrictions and possibly the tax code. Legislators also said the bill could contain language authorizing red light cameras in Albany, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon if standalone bills prove too controversial.
“There are a number of corrections, primarily, from the budget document that was prepared and done,” Cuomo said. “Doing the budget is a feat of logistics and operations, and some items inadvertently drop out of the budget on a technical level, and that's primarily what the bill is about. There may be some stray cats and dogs that we may be looking to work on, also, but it's primarily a technical correction bill.”
But with a message of necessity, watchdogs fear the bill could let seasoned lobbyists slide through provisions that would not withstand public scrutiny.
“Up until modern times, the budget was done at the end of session, so all sorts of deals were cut. In the mid 1990s, the agreement on rent control was cut as part of the budget agreement. So Albany has a long history of log-rolling,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The big question is, will it be stray cats and dogs or a wolf pack of goodies for Albany's fat cats?”
(3) Lowering New York City's speed limit: A small tiff between the two top leaders of the State Senate—Republican Dean Skelos and Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference—is playing out over a bill New York City officials hope will give them the authority to lower speed limits and reduce traffic deaths. Klein introduced a bill with the backing of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, but Skelos has been noncommittal, happy to stick it to de Blasio in light of his promise to campaign against G.O.P. senators.
The Democrat-dominated Assembly is watching and waiting; Silver said he would advance either a measure sponsored by Morningside Heights Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell or Klein's bill. Provided it passes.
(4) Teacher evaluation changes: Cuomo said amending the state-mandated teacher-evaluation system remains a top priority for the final days of the legislative session, and he would offer a message of necessity to get it done. The governor has said he would consider removing Common Core-aligned test scores from consideration in teacher evaluations temporarily to account for the flawed rollout of the tougher curriculum standards. But education commissioner John King told Capital earlier Wednesday that removing the tests from evaluations would jeopardize federal funding. He suggested instead that lawmakers consider keeping the tests in the evaluations but easing or delaying the consequences of the evaluations for teachers who perform poorly—a "safety net" proposal, so to speak.
(5) A program bill for SEIU 1199: A measure backed by powerful health workers union 1199 SEIU that would allow home health aides to perform services typically done by nurses is stuck in the Assembly's rules committee with no Senate sponsor. A nearly identical bill was introduced as program legislation by Cuomo in early June, after the union's leadership helped Cuomo secure the Working Families Party ballot line at that party's convention.
(6) One-house sleepers: Dozens, if not hundreds of bills have passed one house and face an uphill climb in the second. Languishing in the Senate are bills to ban toxic chemicals in children's toys and outlaw gay conversion therapy for minors. Sitting in the Assembly are bills to let home health aides perform more advanced care for the disabled and to apply restrictions on cigarette smoking to increasingly popular e-cigarettes. Each case is a miniature conflict of powerful lobbying forces.