The steady drumbeat of scandal after scandal in the New York state legislature has led many to wonder whether lawmakers can focus on passing any major bills by the end of the session, which is fast approaching. As Karen DeWitt reports, the legislature returns Wednesday and has just four work weeks to act on items ranging from campaign finance reform to abortion rights, to economic development plans.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, before the legislature even returned from its Memorial Day break, gathered local government leaders from across the state to ask for help in passing a plan to create tax free zones for new businesses at college campuses.
“We have about three or four weeks on the legislative calendar,” said Cuomo, who said that’s enough time to have a discussion of the details and get legislation passed.
“But,” he added, “They say sometimes that good ideas come to die in Albany.”
While legislative leaders have at least not said no to the tax free idea, there are some items on Cuomo’s agenda that are considered to be on life support. The governor is seeking to expand New York City’s public campaign financing system for statewide races. He also wants to pass a Women’s Equality Act that includes codifying abortion rights in the federal Roe v. Wade decision into state law.
Republicans, who lead the State Senate in a coalition government, are against both proposals. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says public financing of political campaigns is a waste of the taxpayer’s money. And Senator Skelos says he’s against any bill that could expand abortions in New York.
“Whether people are pro-choice or pro-life, most of them do not believe in the expansion of late-term abortion,” Skelos said recently.
Further complicating the end of session negotiations is the long shadow of scandal cast across the legislature. In recent weeks, two former Senate leaders have been accused of bribery and embezzlement, others have been found to be wearing a wire or under federal investigation.
The State Assembly has had its own scandals. Charges of sexual harassment in two reports forced Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign, and cast a bad light on the handling of the incidents by the staff of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver has survived but may be in a weakened position to deliver votes on key issues.
Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, remains optimistic, saying the sexual harassment scandal could actually help some of the other portions of the Women’s Equality Act, which includes anti sexual harassment measures.
“If Vito Lopez is nothing else, he’s the poster boy for the need to pass the Women’s Equality agenda,” Bartoletti said.
Senator Diane Savino is a member of a group of break away Democrats who co-lead the Senate, along with the Republicans.
Senator Savino, who has introduced a women’s equality measure that does not mention abortion, agrees that the legislative session can be salvaged from all of the bad publicity, and that compromises can still be made.
“Other people may decide that they want to get out of town, but the legislative calendar runs until June 21st,” Savino said. “We owe the public a full day, every day, between now and then.”
And Governor Cuomo believes there’s even more incentive now for lawmakers to act after all the negative news that he’s referred to as “scandal mania”. But he says it’s still too soon to tell how it will all turn out, and what the sticking points will be.
“You don’t have a sticking point because they really don’t tell you anything until 10 days before the end of the session, said Cuomo, who said before that “everybody just smiles and nods.”
That’s when the governor says, they’ll get down to what he calls the “brass tacks” and determine whether the end of session is a success or a failure.