A scurry as Legislature nears end of session

Time is rapidly running out for the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reach agreements on c

Time is rapidly running out for the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reach agreements on casino gambling, campaign finance reform, women’s equality and tax-free zones around public colleges.

More end of session coverage on Capital Region Scene

There hasn’t been much talk about mixed martial arts legalization in the Assembly.

Senate Majority Coalition has its eyes on red tape.

In recent years, the end of legislative session in June has seen a whirlwind of activity, and legislators don’t expect this year to be any different, with compromises envisioned on major legislation before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the summer. There are eight days left in the regular legislative calendar, which concludes with four days this week and four next week.

The most time-sensitive major proposal is a constitutional amendment that would allow up to seven non-Indian, live-table casinos. The amendment needs to pass the state Legislature by summer in order to go before voters in a statewide referendum in the fall. If the bill doesn’t pass before the end of session, the multi-year process of amending the constitution would have to start anew.

Accompanying the amendment is enacting legislation introduced last week by the governor that prescribes where the first three casinos will be located and how operators will be chosen.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said there is a lot of interest in making the referendum happen this fall.

“I predict this issue will be dealt with,” he said.

The constitutional amendment passed the Legislature last year for the first time, although legislators have signaled that second passage is contingent on the plan for siting casinos. Cuomo’s 207-page siting plan is still being analyzed, and Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, said he expects the issue to be debated internally before the end of the session.

He added that it’s too soon to assess the governor’s plan, saying, “That baby was just born last week.”

The only serious alternative to Cuomo’s siting plan comes from Senate Republicans. Seward said he prefers this plan, noting that it creates optimal circumstances for Saratoga Springs to get a casino. He said he expects a compromise to be reached with the governor and the Assembly majority.

There is the possibility of passing the amendment and returning to the Capitol later in the year to pass the siting legislation, but Seward said, “I think there is interest in wrapping up between now and June 20.”

Also on the governor’s agenda for the remainder of the session is his Tax-Free NY plan, which would create development zones with no taxes near public colleges and some additional areas. Unlike the plan for casinos, which legislators can actually read, no bill language has been released yet for this proposal.

Even without the specifics, there is pushback to the tax-free proposal from members in the Assembly and Senate majorities. State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, said she is hearing complaints from existing businesses outside the zones, and Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said the proposal taxes income unfairly, as employees in these zones don’t pay state income tax.

Steck said he isn’t sure where the Assembly would come down on this issue, acknowledging that some members feel this could create more jobs than doing nothing.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said the policy’s future is contingent on support from the established business community. Seward said his own reservations could be addressed by some tweaks, such as including shovel-ready sites and existing business parks in the tax-free zones.

An unknown variable in the final days of session is the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which is part of the majority coalition with the Senate Republicans and claims to play an equal role in what legislation reaches the Senate floor for a vote. This year, the first of the partnership, only one major piece of legislation that divided the coalition moved through the Senate — the governor’s gun-control package, which passed five months ago.

The coalition is divided on a proposal for publicly financed elections. The IDC, the governor and the Assembly Majority support the proposal, while Senate Republicans oppose it.

“I would say that taxpayer-funded elections is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Seward said. “There are other needs the people have.”

Farley echoed this statement, saying publicly financed elections would be a mistake. He rejected the idea that this issue could break the coalition and acknowledged that some sort of publicly financed election system could be adopted.

“We’re very understanding of each other,” he said of the power-sharing partners.

The Senate Majority Coalition appears to be united on the governor’s women’s equality agenda, a package of 10 different legislative priorities, including measures to prevent pay discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

There is support for nine of the points — all except a codification of abortion rights.

Farley said he doesn’t expect abortion protections to be included in any final proposal on women’s equality, which he said is opposed by some Senate Democrats too.

“There aren’t the votes for it,” he said of the abortion language.

The proposal is likely to move through the Assembly, although some members, including Steck, have reservations about the proposal being too weak in parts. He said the provision ensuring wage equality is a “little watered down,” but that he ultimately supports of the package.

Seward rejected the idea that the Senate Majority Coalition might amend the bill in the committee process, stripping out the abortion language and passing the nine points there are agreement on. This would then put the issue in the lap of the Assembly, but he said, “Brinksmanship is not going to do the job and one-house bills are not going to do it.”

If an acceptable version of the women’s equality agenda is created, it would come from behind-the-scenes negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor, Seward said.

The governor has not indicated plans to keep the state Legislature in session past June 20. Farley and Seward, both seasoned veterans of the Senate, expressed confidence that they’ll be out of Albany on time.

The Senate Majority Coalition, though, has indicated plans to continue working past the end of session.

They’ll be holding public hearings around the state to identify regulations and mandates that could be rolled back to help alleviate costs on schools, businesses and local governments.

Marchione, who is co-chair of the Administrative Regulations Review Commission, is one of the four senators who will lead these hearings. She said the state has about “12 miles of red tape” and her hope is they can identify some that can be cut.

This effort is expected to begin this week, with the coalition announcing plans to pass 14 bills on this topic, including two from Marchione and one from Seward. Companion bills in the Assembly don’t exist for all these bills and it’s not likely that these bills will become law this year.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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