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New Yorkers mixed on key end-of-session issues

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New York state lawmakers had the day off Monday before they return to the Capitol on Tuesday to tackle a number of end-of-session issues, including renewing rent control laws and possibly legalizing marijuana for adults. A poll finds support among New Yorkers for many of the issues on the table.

Steve Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena College Research Institute, said the majority of New Yorkers have not changed their minds from past polls and want to see marijuana become legal for adults in the state.

"It’s constant,” said Greenberg, noting that for months, slightly more than half of New Yorkers overall have said they back the measure.

But he said there are pockets of resistance. While three-quarters of people younger than 35 back the measure, those older than 55 are against it by 54%. And Republicans remain opposed, while most Democrats and Independents are supporters.

Greenberg said somewhat surprisingly, the support for legalizing the drug is strongest in upstate.

Another major issue under consideration this week is whether to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. On that issue, the numbers are the reverse.

A majority of New Yorkers -- 53% -- do not want the immigrants to get the licenses, with upstate voters being the most opposed. But with 41% in favor, he said the idea has gained traction since it was first seriously discussed in March.

“It was 27 points underwater. Right now, it’s 12 points underwater,” Greenberg said. “So it’s made a little bit of progress, but still a majority opposes it."

The poll also asked about vaccinations and equal rights for women. Respondents overwhelmingly back getting rid of the religious exemption for vaccinations in the wake of a measles epidemic in New York due to unvaccinated children. They also back amending the state’s constitution to guarantee equal rights.

If polls were the arbiters of how legislators enacted laws, then the end-of-session items would be quickly settled. But Greenberg said there are other factors that lawmakers consider when deciding whether to change state policies.

“It’s more complicated,” Greenberg said. “For legislators, particularly, what’s more important is how their constituents feel rather than how voters statewide feel.”

When the Legislature returns Tuesday, the Assembly, led by Democrats, is expected to approve the driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. But that measure's future is uncertain in the Senate, which is also run by Democrats.

There is resistance among some Assembly members and senators to legalizing cannabis. And a bill to end the religious exemption for vaccinations is stuck in the Assembly Health Committee, where some members oppose it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is the leader of the Democratic Party, speaking late last week on WAMC public radio in Albany, seemed reluctant to assist the Democrats in gaining agreements, saying it’s up to them to work it out.

Another key issue that needs to be decided is the extension of New York City’s rent laws, which expire Saturday. There’s consensus that the laws need to be renewed and strengthened, but there’s no action yet on nine separate bills that have been proposed.

“There’s no negotiation,” Cuomo said on June 7 to WAMC’s Alan Chartock. “Whatever they can pass, the Assembly will pass, and I will sign. It’s that simple.”

The poll also asked about the governor’s political future. Cuomo recently said he’d like to seek a fourth term when he is next up for election in 2022. It found that 58% of those surveyed would not like to see that happen.

Despite that, Cuomo is relatively popular in New York, with 52% saying they have a favorable opinion of him. That’s the highest number for Cuomo in over a year.