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Unfinished Business In Legislative Session

Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

There’s around two months left in the New York legislative session and a number of issues left on the agenda. But it’s uncertain how many of them will actually become law. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s failed to achieve a number of progressive items over the last two years, including public campaign finance reform and a Women’s Equality Act, told the Democratic Rural Conference that he’ll try to get them passed in the state legislature in the next eight weeks, before the session ends in June.  

He told a weekend meeting of the Upstate Democrats that if he can’t make progress, he’ll take the measures to the campaign trail.

“Remember my friends, where the legislative session ends, the campaign dialogue begins,” Cuomo told the crowd. 

The items have support in the Democratic-led State Assembly, but are stalled in the State Senate. Republicans, who rule the Senate with a group of breakaway Democrats, oppose public campaign finance and a provision in the Women’s Equality act that codifies the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade. They have already voted against another bill known as the Dream Act that would provide aid for college students who are undocumented immigrants.  

The leader of the Independent Democrats, Senator Jeff Klein, says that the legislature “has a lot of unfinished business,” including campaign finance reform. Klein says a pilot program limited to the state comptroller's race, approved in the budget, is not enough.

“I think we can do better,” Klein said. “I’m hopeful we can get something done for other statewide elected officials as well as the legislature before the end of the session.” 

Klein points out that the Dream Act already came to the Senate floor but failed to win the 32 votes required to achieve a majority. No GOP Senator voted yes.  

Klein says he would not consider regrouping with the rest of the Senate Democrats instead of the Republicans to get the other items passed. 

In his speech to the Upstate Democrats, Cuomo blamed lawmakers for the failure to win public campaign financing in the budget. They did agree to a lesser plan that would only apply to the state comptroller’s race. But the governor recently told the publication Crain’s New York Business that it was the labor unions that were also to blame. Cuomo told the paper that Senate Republicans wanted unions to refrain from outside expenditure spending in campaigns, which include Super PACs, in exchange for an agreement on a publicly funded, matching small donor program. 

Klein agrees that publicly financed campaigns may not be labors’ biggest priority.

“This is not something that resonates with everyone unfortunately,” Klein said. “I disagree.”

Karen Scharff, with the Working Families Party, which is led by reform activists and union leaders, says a request that the unions refrain from spending money on campaigns when there are no restrictions on big business would not work.

“It makes no sense,” Scharff said. “Why would the governor ask labor to voluntarily disarm while leaving big business interests free to spend unlimited amounts on behalf of their candidates?”  

Some have interpreted Cuomo’s remarks as a “divide and conquer” strategy, an attempt to split labor unions from the government reform groups. Scharff says she views the comments merely as a “distraction” from the failure to get the bill passed.   

There are other issues likely to be discussed in the remaining weeks of session, including how to offer medical marijuana to patients in New York.

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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