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Cuomo, lawmakers persevere on special session talks

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In Albany’s own version of Groundhog Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are still keeping open the possibility of a special session before the year ends that could include legalizing ride-sharing services statewide and a pay raise for lawmakers.

Cuomo, during a brief stop in Albany to preside over the Electoral College, said he’s still trying to work out a deal with the Legislature to return before the end of the year to act on a number of issues.

“It’s up in the air,” Cuomo said. “They could.”

One of the potential items would allow ride-sharing services outside of New York City. As first reported by Politico New York, draft legislation is circulating among the governor’s and legislative counsels.

It proposes amendments to the state’s insurance laws to adequately cover the drivers if there’s an accident. Upstate and Long Island residents would have to pay 50 cents per trip to help fund mass transit in New York City and its suburbs, as well as upstate bus lines.

The taxi industry is pushing back, saying in a statement that Uber and Lyft drivers on Long Island and upstate should undergo fingerprint background checks, just like regular taxi cab drivers. Uber and Lyft drivers are required to have fingerprint checks in New York City.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he would “love” to have ride-sharing outside of New York City. But he said there are safety concerns that need to be resolved first.

“We want to make sure that people are safe,” Heastie said. “I think some of that is getting lost in this debate.”

Heastie said he thinks an agreement can be forged, if everyone can be “flexible and compromise.”

Ethics reform items seem to no longer be on the table for this year. But the governor is still pushing for changes to the state’s hate crimes laws to protect more people after a rise in bias-related incidents after the election of Donald Trump. And he’d like to free up more money to help the homeless. Cuomo in recent days has added yet another item to his list: tax breaks.

“I would like see people get more relief on property taxes,” said Cuomo. “Property taxes are crushing the people of this state.”

The governor has not provided details. Heastie also declined to outline the proposal but said some of his Democratic members have “concerns” with it.

All of the measures could wait until the 2017 session, which begins in about two weeks. But one item that has to be done by Dec. 31 is a pay raise for lawmakers. Legislators are not allowed to vote on a salary increase for themselves, but they can approve raises for future office holders, and the new term begins on Jan. 4.

But Cuomo said he won’t agree to a special session if it’s just about a pay raise.

“If they want to come back and do the people’s business, then we’ll have something to talk about,” Cuomo said.

Lawmakers have not seen a salary increase in almost two decades.

Last week, Cuomo and the leader of the Senate, John Flanagan, openly feuded, accusing each other of obstructing negotiations. Flanagan has not commented publicly since. Heastie said they were likely just having a “bad day.”

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.