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New York State Legislature's 2017 Session Under Way

New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Karen DeWitt
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

On Wednesday New York state lawmakers gathered in Albany to kick off the 2017 session.

A picture of a person sending a text message
Credit Flickr

New York state lawmakers began their work with a vote to prohibit the use of cellphones as recording devices in the Senate chambers.

The ban is intended to protect the chamber's decorum, according to lawmakers who included it in the Senate's internal rules. Democrats called it an infringement of free speech that could make it harder for journalists and the public to share information about state government.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has had frosty relations with legislators in recent months, was at an event in New York City. Some lawmakers say they saw that as a sign of disrespect for the legislative body.

Bucking tradition, Cuomo has opted to take the State of the State address on the road, instead of delivering it at the Capitol.  That's not sitting well with several legislators, including Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther of the 100th District. "The most important part of this discussion is the message that he gives. To make sure that increased funding for schools, there's health care issues, there's affordable housing issues, and you know I say that a decision's been made, you can't change it, so at this point you have to move forward and hope that all the things that are important to New York are part of that message, as he goes to all parts of the state."

100th District Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther

109th district Assemblymember Pat Fahy weighs in:  "Not even having an official State of? the State seems a little unusual, to say the least."

Cuomo has proposed funding a new hate crimes task force to address what he calls an "uptick" in racially-motivated incidents and an initiative to provide legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation. But he stunned lawmakers on New Year’s Eve when he shot down the Justice Equality Act.

Fahy says she will again lead the fight to shift the costs of indigent legal services.   "That was a true disappointment, to see that be vetoed, just before the New Year. But I think that we're close and I'm optimistic that we can get it done. I just wanna make as sure that we can get as much of the full package passed and implemented."

State Senator George Amedore shared a few of his priorities with NewsChannel13:  "We need to invest in infrastructure, in technologies. And there's no reason why upstate New York can't have Uber right now."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says the 2016 election will continue to play a major role in the New Year.   "People were disappointed on what happened last year, but it's a new year and we have to get back to work and that's what we really wanna focus on."

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, says lawmakers will stand up to President-elect Donald Trump if he and Congressional Republicans move to roll back initiatives to fight climate change, rein in abortion rights, health care benefits or immigration. Heastie conceded that the state legislature may have to craft a budget by the end of March without knowing the direction that Washington will take.   "The President-elect has said certain things. Those things that he said will probably be part of our discussions around the budget. But if things happen, we can always come back after the federal government passes their budget, if it looks like they've done catastrophic things."

The agenda for New York's six-month legislative session promises big debates over the cost of higher education, government ethics and Uber's proposal to expand into upstate cities like Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as a bill that would "Raise the Age" – therein ending the state's practice of prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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