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Legislative business taking back seat to latest Albany scandal

Every day for the past two weeks, news reports have focused on a federal probe of Governor Cuomo’s Administration. Despite that, Cuomo and legislative leaders say they are trying to achieve some agenda items in the closing weeks of the legislative session.

Governor Cuomo, who’s former top aide and an associate are under federal investigation for potential fraud, made a rare public appearance. He was not at the state’s Capitol, but in a remote area of the Adirondacks, announcing progress on a state land purchase.

Cuomo says he plans to accomplish a lot with the legislature before the Senate and Assembly adjourn in mid June.

The governor  says he wants to work on fighting heroin addiction, and has set up a task force which includes several of his agency heads and addiction specialists and treatment centers.

“This state has a crisis with heroin and opiates,” said Cuomo who called it “frightening."

Cuomo says he  wants to work on improving the state’s housing policy to better aid the homeless. He also wants to improve access to breast cancer screening, after his long time girlfriend, celebrity chef Sandra Lee was treated for the disease last year.

And in a time when every branch of state government is either under investigation or has been investigated for corruption, Cuomo says he still wants to pursue ethics reform. The governor says legislature should at least address a stalled measure to cancel the pensions of  lawmakers convicted of felonies. Both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Leader Dean Skelos will be keeping their pensions, under the current rules , even though both were convicted of multiple corruption charges. Cuomo says that’s wrong.

“Talk about adding insult to injury,” Cuomo said.

The governor once again talked of limiting outside income for legislators, which factored heavily in the corruption cases against the former leaders. Cuomo’s own former top aide, Joe Percoco, is being investigated by the US Attorney for possibly improperly getting consulting fees from companies doing business with the state. Senate Republicans previously rejected limiting outside income.

Cuomo says he’s even considering term limits for legislators and wants to close the LLC campaign finance loophole.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, following a private leaders meeting earlier in the week with Governor Cuomo, says the governor and legislative leaders worked out a “game plan” for the second half of the session.

Speaker Heastie denies, though, that all of the scandals are hampering lawmakers from their work, but he concedes that the second half of the session will be unlikely to accomplish as much as the first half of the session. That included a new state budget with a minimum wage increase and partial paid family leave.

“I don’t know if ambitious is the right term,” Heastie said. “Will the second half be as rewarding to me as the first half, with the great things in the great budget? I don’t know that.”

Senate Leader John Flanagan, is more positive about achieving agenda items in the final weeks of the session, and  says he’s still pushing to reform business regulations and bring down worker’s comp costs. Flanagan marks one year in his post this week, after replacing former Leader Skelos, who resigned after his indictment in May of 2015. Senator Flanagan says legislature made progress last year, even amidst the resignations and corruption charges against the two majority party leaders . He says they won’t be deterred by this year’s corruption scandals.

“We were productive before when a lot of things were going on, we’ll be  productive now,” Flanagan said.

Speaker Heastie tacitly admitted, though, that expectations of what might be achieved have been lowered.

“We’ll try to do the best we can before we all have to run for re election,” Heastie said.

In November, All 213 lawmakers face the voters for the first time since the corruption scandals erupted.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.