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Beleaguered Lawmakers Enter Final Weeks Of Session

NYS Capitol

  The legislature will be finishing up its work in the next couple of weeks with two new legislative leaders—one in his third month, the other in just his second week on the job.

Now that the State Senate has stabilized, after weeks of turmoil over corruption charges, legislative leaders and Governor Cuomo are looking at what they can reasonably finish with just five weeks left in the session.

They held their first meeting shortly after Senator John Flanagan was named the new majority leader. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at three months into the job, is in comparison an old hand at the job of legislative leader.

“We welcomed John to the family,” Heastie said. “And we’ll see what see what happens .”

A number of major laws expire in June, including New York City’s rent regulations, which limit amounts that landlords can increase rents in some apartments. A related tax break for real estate developers, also sunsets. In addition, the rent laws are tied, through a deal struck in 2011, to renewal of the state’s property tax cap in 2016.  And, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking renewal of a law that gives the mayor more control over the school system.

Senate Leader Flanagan says he expects all of those laws to be continued.

“My assumption is that there will be an extender,” Flanagan said.

The Assembly and Senate are also considering revising flaws in a teacher evaluation plan that was passed as part of the state budget in late March. Schools have complained that the time frame, to put in place new teacher performance plans by fall, is unrealistic. And Governor Cuomo has renewed a push for an education tax credit for donors who give up to a million dollars to provide scholarships for children to attend private schools, and to fund extra activities at some public schools.

But legislative leaders say despite the ongoing corruption scandals, they have no plans to address any additional ethics reforms.

“That wasn’t one of the topics of discussion,” said Speaker Heastie, when asked about it by reporters.

Senate Leader Flanagan says he’d be “surprised” if there were any new ethics changes made before the session ends.

The state Assembly has approved a one house bill that closes a loophole in the campaign donation laws. It  would outlaw the use of Limited Liability Companies to  surpass existing campaign donation limits.

The use of LLC’s has figured prominently in the corruption scandals that brought down the former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Leader Dean Skelos.

A Senate committee considering the LLC bill met for what is likely the final time this year without taking any action.

Senator Flanagan has promised, though,  that his Republican conference will discuss closing the LLC loophole before the session ends.

“I guarantee that will be a discussion that will happen,” Flanagan said.

In addition to the scandals that have slowed legislative business in Albany, Governor Cuomo announced that he’ll be taking some rare personal time away from his job,  in the coming weeks, to be with his long time partner, Food Channel chef Sandra Lee, who is undergoing major surgery for breast cancer. 

Cuomo, speaking to the Associated Press, said he’ll be just focusing in the coming weeks on getting the “basics” done before adjournment in late June, saying it’s “not a session to get fancy.”

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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