Lawmakers hustle to find compromises
ALBANY – Negotiations over New York City schools, ethics reforms and a long list of other issues entered their final round Wednesday as New York lawmakers rushed to finish their work for the year.
The Senate and Assembly hope to adjourn today or Friday – but first they must find resolution on whether to extend a policy giving Mayor Bill de Blasio control of his city’s public schools. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers continued to discuss possible ethics reforms to address Albany’s chronic corruption problem.
“We’re talking about a lot of different things but we don’t have agreements,” said Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads the Senate’s Independent Democrats.
Lobbyists and advocates for a variety of issues descended on the Capitol to make their final pitch as the clock winds down. Supporters of a proposal to ban toxins in toys inflated a giant rubber duck near the state Capitol, while dozens of nurses lobbied for a bill that would mandate minimum staffing levels at hospitals and nursing homes. The bill passed the Assembly Monday night and supporters were hopeful a vote in the Senate could be scheduled before adjournment.
“We have two more days,” said Tara Martin, political director for the State Nurses Association. “We are running out of time.”
Cuomo and top lawmakers have already reached agreements on bills to combat heroin addiction, expand breast cancer screening and allow restaurants to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays. Those measures likely will win formal passage on Thursday, the day lawmakers hope to adjourn.
Mayoral control of schools in New York City is the thorniest remaining issue. The Assembly’s Democratic majority and Cuomo favor a three-year extension, while the Senate’s Republican leaders have suggested a one-year renewal. They signaled this week they would be open to a three-year extension, but only if it was accompanied by concessions such as a tax break for private school tuition.
Polls show ethics remains a top issue to voters following high-profile corruption cases in Albany, but lawmakers remain slow to act on a variety of reforms. A proposal that was picking up momentum Wednesday is a proposed state Constitutional amendment that, if placed on the ballot by lawmakers and approved by voters, would allow judges to strip the pensions of lawmakers convicted of corruption.
One final debate is over efforts to legalize daily fantasy sports. The popular online games were thrown into turmoil last year when Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said they amounted to illegal gambling. Now, lawmakers are working out the details over proposed regulations that would allow the games to continue.
Lawmakers are likely to work late into the night Thursday – and perhaps into the day Friday – to close out their session. Until then lawmakers and lobbyists alike will look for leverage in the hopes of pushing legislation over the finish line.
“Everybody wants to go home. I understand that,” said Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, a Democrat. “But you don’t go home with unfinished business.”