The 2018 legislative session ended quietly, as Democrats and Republicans in the New York state legislature failed to agree on major issues and exited the capitol until next January. But Governor Andrew Cuomo is now leaving the door open to calling them back.
There was an attempt on the final day of the session to resolve differences over a bill on teacher evaluations. It would decouple student scores on controversial standardized tests from teacher performance ratings. Democrats in the Assembly wanted to tackle that issue alone in legislation, while Republicans who lead the state Senate tied the change to adding more charter schools in New York City, and lessening requirements from the State Education Department for Yeshiva religious schools. The Republicans retain their majority in the Senate through the support of one lone Democrat, Simcha Felder, who represents a portion of the Orthodox Jewish community.
As the session wound down, and lawmakers were served ice cream and lemon ices, Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan tried to put the best face on the failure of the bill. She says there is already a moratorium on using the student test scores to measure teacher performance that remains in place for one more year.
“People would like to be able to go home to their districts and say ‘we resolved this problem,’” Nolan said. “But if we’re not able to, there’s no cause for panic.”
But teachers are unhappy. New York State United Teachers Union President Andy Pallotta says 55 Senators, Democrats and Republicans, signed on to the Assembly version of the bill. Yet it never came to the floor for a vote.
“They ignored their own constituents,” Pallotta said. “They ignored and betrayed the students that have to live under this testing obsession, kids that takes tests for hours and are crying.”
Pallotta says it will become a campaign issue in Senate races in the November election. All of the legislators, as well as Governor Cuomo, are up for election.
Governor Cuomo gave up on a number of his priority issues earlier in the week, when he said, in a conference call with reporters on June 19th, that the gridlocked state Senate was not going to take up bills ranging from the Child Victims Act, to give survivors of childhood sexual abuse their day in court, early voting measures, and a gun control bill.
On Thursday, Cuomo threatened to call the legislature back into session over renewal of speed cameras in New York City. Republicans who lead the state Senate did not approve a renewal of the program. Cuomo says he might call a special session, if he believes the measure would be passed in the Senate.
“I will bring them back at any time at a moment’s notice,” Cuomo said. “I think it would be an atrocity and a public safety hazard if the Senate doesn’t renew the cameras by the time the children start school in September.”
Cuomo’s political challengers lost no time in criticizing the lack of action in the legislative session.
Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon says “the governor and his allies failed to deliver” on issue like bail reform and fully funding public schools.
Republican candidate for Governor Marc Molinaro says the governor spent too much time “belittling senate Republicans and running for President.”
The governor made six appearances on cable news shows on the final day of the session, to talk about the federal immigrant family separation crisis.