Five takeaways from the end of the state legislative session
The state legislative session is over – at least for now.
About an hour before midnight on Wednesday, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan issued a statement announcing that the state Legislature was adjourning the 2017 session. Other legislative leaders echoed his remarks.
While Flanagan said his Republican conference had succeeded in getting “the people’s business” done, he acknowledged that he had failed to reach an agreement on extending mayoral control of New York City’s schools, which is set to expire at the end of this month.
Here is a rundown of where mayoral control and other key issues stand as lawmakers leave town – and whether they’ll be back in a few weeks or months for a special session.
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Mayoral control: The main holdup at the end of the session was mayoral control of schools. State Senate Republicans had insisted in passing legislation benefitting charter schools in exchange for renewing mayoral control, while Assembly Democrats had rejected such a deal. Instead, the Assembly had linked mayoral control to local tax provisions in an effort to force it through. Many trace the standoff back to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failed 2014 effort to flip the state Senate majority to Democrats. Ever since, de Blasio has only won one-year extensions of the law, even though it was extended for multiple years before.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed a three-year extension, but recently expressed skepticism that it would get done this session. Assembly Democrats joined with the Senate Independent Democratic Conference in pushing for a two-year extension. In recent days, de Blasio has warned that a failure to renew the measure would create chaos – although experts disagree.
Flanagan said he remained committed to mayoral control, but didn’t back down on linking it to raising the cap on charter schools in New York City. “The Assembly needlessly tied renewal of mayoral control to dozens of unrelated local tax extenders requested by counties to fund important services for their residents,” he said in his statement announcing the end of session.
Special session: Some lawmakers left open the possibility that they will return for a special session to try once again to resolve the mayoral control issue, although it’s unclear when that might happen. The measure expires at the end of the month, although others have pointed to a similar situation in 2009, when weeks passed before before mayoral control was renewed and there was little impact.
“I will continue to work to extend mayoral control because I believe very strongly in the accountability it provides,” Flanagan said, “but I also believe that the 50,000 boys and girls in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx who are now on waiting lists for a seat inside a charter school deserve the best possible education we can provide. I will never stop fighting for those kids, and will not leave them without a voice.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose Democratic conference already passed a two-year extension, said he will not return this summer to address mayoral control, according to State of Politics’ Nick Reisman.
Even though he distanced himself from the issue, and already passed many of his own top priorities, the governor could also take a political hit. This was the first year that a state budget was delivered days late, and the need for a special session could further undercut his reputation for ending dysfunction in Albany.
Confirmations: In a last-minute surprise, former New York City Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota was nominated and confirmed by the state Senate as the new chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Lhota was the Republican New York City mayoral nominee who ran against de Blasio in 2013, and he received much praise from lawmakers for his past work heading the agency. He’ll take over as chairman, which leaves open the possibility that acting MTA Executive Director Veronique Hakim could still be brought on permanently.
The state Senate also confirmed mid-level appeals court judge Paul Feinman, who is now the first openly gay man to be appointed to the state Court of Appeals. Both Republicans and Democrats hailed the confirmation to the state’s highest court after the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.
“After reviewing Mr. Feinman’s background, reading his cases, and speaking with him at the Judiciary Committee hearing, I was impressed with his knowledge of the law and his judicial independence. I have no doubt he will make an outstanding Judge,” state Sen. John Bonacic, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a statement.
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What else got done: The Cuomo administration and the powerful Civil Service Employees Association reached a five-year contract agreement, which would give the union a 2 percent annual raise for five years. After years of failing to pass both houses, the state Legislature also agreed on a deal to pass a restricted version of Lavern’s Law, which will begin the window of time to bring a medical malpractice case involving cancer and malignant tumors when the error is discovered by the patient, not when the actual mistake occurs. Currently, the statute of limitations begins when the mistake occurs. Cuomo was also praised supporting raising the age to consent to marriage to 18 years old.
Additionally, PTSD was added to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program, though it’s unclear if Cuomo will sign the legislation. Cuomo also announced a deal with leaders on a compromise “Buy American” bill, which instructs state agencies to include a provision in contracts requiring the use of American-made iron and steel for bridge and road projects.
What else didn’t get done: Despite a renewed public push, the state Senate once again refused to pass the Child Victims Act, which would allow survivors to bring civil cases up until their 50th birthdays and felony criminal cases until their 28th birthdays. The legislation has been around for several years in the state Legislature, but this year was the first year Cuomo introduced his own version of the bill. However, advocates criticized his seemingly lack of interest pushing for the passage at the end of session.
Also, more oversight on procurement reform after the corruption cases of those close to Cuomo have advanced was dead on arrival in the state Legislature, along with general ethics reform.
“In a few months, the governor’s former top aides will be on trial, charged with corruption of state economic development programs,” Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said in a statement. “Shamefully, lawmakers left Albany without any reforms to the very same programs. Despite calls by our Conference and the state comptroller for greater oversight and reform, majority leaders failed to bring bills to the floor. It’s disgraceful that protecting taxpayer dollars remains so low on their priority list.”