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New York State Budget Talks Focus on Possible Gun Law Changes

Lawmakers originally planned to be passing bills by now, ready to wrap up the state budget and leave on a three week break beginning on Thursday.
But, instead of an agreement early in the week, each day lawmakers have found themselves discussing new issues , some of them totally unrelated to the spending plan. Most recently, talks have turned to whether to decriminalize public possession of marijuana in New York City, and walking back a provision of the recently enacted gun control laws.

Governor Cuomo says the numerous daily meetings with  legislative leaders are also conducive to talking about resolving other issues, too.
“The budget is a time and an opportunity where you can do a lot of good things,” said Cuomo. “And we have time on the clock, we have a lot of time on the clock.”
And Cuomo says, unlike some lawmakers who have vacation plans, he’s going to be around for the rest of the month, until the budget needs to be in place.
“The deadline for the budget is April 1, so that’s an eternity away,” Cuomo said. “We have ten days.”
The extended negotiations have already generated several possible deals.
Talks between Democrats, who are seeking a minimum wage increase, and Republicans, who want more business and middle class tax cuts, grew into an even bigger package. It includes sending $350 checks in the mail to every middle class family with school aged children.  The checks would arrive in 2014, just before Election Day.  The plan would also extend a tax surcharge on millionaires when it expires next year, as well as related tax breaks for middle income workers.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, says he’s in favor of continuing the tax on the rich as well as the middle class tax breaks first enacted in December 2011.
“I do think it’s a very good idea,” said Silver. “It makes our tax code more progressive.”
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, while not exactly endorsing the tax on the wealthy, acknowledged that it’s extension needed in order to pay for the tax breaks planned for 2014 and 2015.
“There’s a good possibility that’s going to happen,” Skelos said.
Governor Cuomo tried to put the entire package in a positive light. He says overall, even with the continued  tax increase on the rich, more New Yorkers will benefit from tax breaks in the tentative deal.
“It is net a tax cut,” Cuomo said.
The governor and legislative leaders are talking about easing the penalties for public possession of marijuana, but only in New York City, to eliminate complications caused by the Stop and Frisk Law.
Discussions on amending the state’s recently passed gun control laws could lead to rescinding a ban on the sale of 10 bullet magazines.
Now, Cuomo and legislative leaders say they may still permit the sales after all. The gun laws passed in January limit the number of bullets in a magazine to 7.  But there are loopholes that allow 10 bullets at shooting ranges and in competitions. The amendment could still impose the 7 bullet limit, but permit the purchase of the 10 bullet magazines for use at shooting ranges and in sporting contests, says Cuomo.
“The law now says you can have 10 bullets at a range or at a competition,” said Cuomo. “Otherwise, it’s 7.  And you can have a magazine that does that.”
While there are ten days left in the fiscal year, part of those days are taken up by the Passover and Easter holidays. Scenarios for finishing the budget, once there is agreement, include working over the weekend or coming back in the middle of next week.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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