Last night of session: What got done and what didn’t

last-night-session-what-got-done-and-what-didnt
Dean Skelos, Andrew Cuomo, and Sheldon Silver in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY — On the last night of the legislative session, lawmakers in Albany passed a flurry of bills, including a measure that would lower New York City’s speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour, and alter the state’s current teacher evaluations system.

Close to midnight, the Senate leadership scuttled a planned vote on a bill to legalize medical marijuana, delaying the vote until Friday morning, to give members enough time to study the 40-plus pages of legislation. Senator Dean Skelos, the G.O.P. conference leader, told reporters Thursday night that he would vote "yes" on the marijuana bill, because the final legislation forbids smoking.

Both houses of the Legislature passed a bill to amend the state's teacher evaluation law, creating a two-year “safety net” for educators whose ratings are negatively affected by low student performance on Common Core-aligned exams.

Senator John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican and chair of his chamber's education committee, argued that the bill shields teachers from consequences of the rough transition to the Common Core in the same way that provisions in the state budget hold students harmless. The budget banned the use of Common Core-aligned tests on students' transcripts and from use in promotion decisions.

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The Assembly passed the bill late Thursday night with a vote of 114-1, and the Senate followed in the early hours of Friday with a 60-0 passage.

In both houses, there was virtually no debate. Senator George Latimer, a Westchester County Democrat, and several Assembly Republicans argued in their respective chambers that the bill did not do enough to alleviate anxiety caused by Common Core-aligned testing.

“We're telling kids that the tests don’t matter; we're now going to not count it against the teachers, which is the right thing to do, but … why are we continuing with tests that are this problematic?” asked Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican from rural Rensselaer County. “Our work here is not done.”

The bill to lower New York City’s speed limit, introduced by Klein, passed by a vote of 58-2. It was being pushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of his Vision Zero initiative, a plan to eliminate traffic-related deaths citywide.

Both the speed limit legislation and the changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system were passed in a hurry. Cuomo issued messages of necessity for both bills, allowing them to bypass the required three-day aging process and be printed and voted on in the same night.

Other bills that passed both houses and will now go to the governor’s desk include a measure that would require sunscreen bottles to carry expiration dates, and a bill to legalize sparklers and other small fireworks.