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Flurry of dealmaking as legislative session winds down

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WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen Dewitt
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Abortion rights advocates dressed as handmaidens from the Margaret Atwood tale hold a silent protest Monday to call for passage of a reproductive rights bill in the state Senate.

There was a flurry of activity — along with threats and ultimatums — on Monday at the State Capitol, but there were no agreements on major issues as the session draws to a scheduled close on Wednesday.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse remain hopeful that there could be a vote in the state Senate on a measure to extend the statute of limitations to age 28 for criminal proceedings and age 50 for civil proceedings.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins urged the majority coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats to allow the bill on the floor for a vote.

“There is no reason not to let this bill come to the floor,” Stewart-Cousins said.

The measure has been approved in the state Assembly.

Meanwhile, senators are urging the Assembly to approve a package of bills to help fight the opioid crisis. But Assembly Democrats say the measures are too punitive.

In addition to providing greater access to substance abuse services, they also include creating a new crime of homicide for anyone who gives or sells an illegal drug to another when that act leads to that person’s death. The package also stiffens penalties for the sale and possession of heroin and establishes new penalties for fraudulently writing prescriptions.

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said the crackdown is needed.

“The people we’re talking about, they’re just bad people, they’re trying to destroy other people’s lives,” said Flanagan, who added he believes there’s “moral obligation” to strengthen penalties.

But the biggest and most difficult remaining issue in the session issue is an extension of the mayor of New York City’s authority over the city’s public schools, known as mayoral control. The Senate has linked extension of mayoral control to the expansion and strengthening of charter schools, an idea that’s been declared dead on arrival in the state Assembly.

Flanagan, in a statement issued Sunday, said that he won’t support a “long-term” extension of mayoral control without provisions to strengthen and expand charter schools.

Several senators said Monday that they plan to adjourn on Wednesday as scheduled whether all of the remaining issues are resolved or not. Sen. Jim Tedisco, who represents Schenectady and surrounding areas, said staying in Albany after June 21 would not be a productive use of lawmakers’ time. 

“We may be back in a week, two weeks, a month or so,” Tedisco said.

Assembly Democrats have tied extension of mayoral control to the continuation of sales tax for counties upstate and on Long Island, essentially holding the sales tax extensions hostage to mayoral control.

Tedisco said sales tax is an important source of revenue that is often generated by summer tourism. He expects the two issues to be uncoupled before the Legislature adjourns.

“I think we’ll come to an agreement on that because that affects both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans,” Tedisco said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he does not plan to unlink the two issues, saying both are local government issues and so belong in the same bill together.

“At this point, I stand by our bill,” Heastie said. 

And Heastie said while the Senate may want to return later in the year, the Assembly will consider its work done by Wednesday, whether or not there are agreements on major issues. Heastie said the only reason his house would return is if federal budget cuts later in the year lead to a state budget deficit that would need to be addressed.

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.