New York lawmakers returned to Albany on Tuesday to begin the final weeks of their work for 2016, confronting a to-do list that includes a possible upstate expansion for Uber, a decision on control of public schools in New York City and the challenge of addressing Albany’s perennial corruption problem.
Over the course of seven weeks, the Senate and Assembly will take up hundreds of bills with an eye on the fall elections. Here’s a look at the top issues they will face:
In the last year, Albany’s two most powerful lawmakers were convicted on federal corruption charges, joining more than 30 other lawmakers who left office facing criminal or ethical allegations. But lawmakers have been slow to respond.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed tighter campaign finance rules and restrictions on how much lawmakers can make from side jobs. Those ideas face opposition in the Senate, however.
One idea with broader support is a ballot referendum that, if approved by voters, would allow a judge to strip the pensions of convicted lawmakers. A 2011 pension forfeiture law doesn’t apply to lawmakers elected before that bill was passed, meaning that many lawmakers can keep their pensions even if convicted of corruption. So far, the Assembly and Senate cannot agree on wording for the referendum.
“Ethics is going to be the main focus between now and June,” Cuomo told a group of upstate editorial boards in April.
New York City Schools
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, must once again persuade lawmakers to extend his control of city schools, a policy which is set to expire June 30 after lawmakers renewed it for only a year in 2015.
Senate Republicans are skeptical about giving the city control over its own public education system, even though mayoral control was first authorized in 2002. Two hearings have been scheduled on extending it, and de Blasio is expected to face tough questions about his handling of education from his GOP critics.
“Without a detailed and thoughtful exchange, it is difficult to craft an extension that is in the best interests of New York City’s students and teachers,” said Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
Uber and Lyft
The app-based ride-hailing services want lawmakers to pass regulations allowing them to expand operations into upstate cities such as Rochester and Buffalo, the latter being the largest U.S. city not served by Uber or Lyft. Currently the two companies are limited to the New York City area.
While many upstate mayors support the expansion, taxi companies are fighting it, saying Uber and Lyft shouldn’t be given special regulations when they aren’t subject to the same rules governing yellow cabs.
Hundreds of people complained of registration problems during the state’s recent presidential primary, prompting some lawmakers to propose changes to make it easier for voters to register, change their party affiliations or fill out a ballot.
Odds and Ends
The final weeks of session are when lawmakers and special interest groups make final pushes to pass legislation that failed to get traction earlier in the year. Many bills are considered long shots, including proposals to prohibit cat declawing, allow terminally ill people to obtain life-ending drugs and require the labeling of food products with genetically modified organisms.
Assembly Democrats will try again to get the Senate to agree on the Dream Act, which would make financial aid available to students in the country illegally. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, hope to pass a series of business regulation reforms.
With every seat in the Legislature up for grabs this fall, the Senate and Assembly will work quickly to wrap up the session and adjourn on time. Look for lawmakers to use the final weeks to pass bills that they can campaign on back home.
Politics will be on special display in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats are battling for control. With Todd Kaminsky’s swearing in on Tuesday after winning a special election, Democrats now control 32 seats in the chamber. But the 31 Republicans are in charge thanks to support from six breakaway Democrats.