Capitol Watch: A More Diverse Legislature, Early Actions
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York government news, an increasingly diverse state Legislature is back in Albany for its 2019 session, the first in the state's history with African-Americans holding the top leadership posts in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, formally became Senate majority leader when the Legislature convened this past week. She's the first woman to hold the post. Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, was elected Assembly speaker for the third time.
Women now hold 70 of the Democrat-controlled Legislature's 213 seats, the most ever.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will be back Monday at the Capitol for their first full session day, with some of the year's top issues expected to be on the agenda this week. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins and Heastie have all said getting many of those issues passed during the session's first 100 days is a priority and some could be done within 30 days.
And Cuomo again pushed aside talk about a run for president in 2020 while pushing for his favored candidate for the White House: former Vice President Joe Biden.
Here's a look at stories making news:
Heastie mentioned in his session-opening speech that women hold 50 of the 150 seats in his Democrat-controlled chamber. Also, women now hold three of the Assembly's top four leadership positions: Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, the first African-American to hold the chamber's No. 2 post; Deputy Speaker Cathy Nolan, of Queens, and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein, of Brooklyn.
In the now-Democrat-controlled, 63-seat Senate, women now hold 20 seats, the most ever. Democrats regained control of the chamber from Republicans in the November elections after a decade in the minority.
"Think about it. It wasn't that long ago that women weren't even allowed to set foot on this Senate floor," Stewart-Cousins said during Wednesday's opening session. "Let's have all the women senators stand up! Look at us now! Amazing!"
The majority leader went on to highlight several firsts for the Senate: first Muslim, Robert Jackson, of Manhattan; first Iranian-American, Anna Kaplan, of Long Island; first Chinese-American, John Liu, of Queens; first Salvadorian, Monica Martinez of Long Island; first Costa Rican, Zellnor Myrie, of Brooklyn; first Indian-American, Kevin Thomas, of Long Island, and first Colombians, Jessica Ramos, of Queens, and Julia Salazar, of Brooklyn.
Among the issues expected to be dealt with early in the session is voting reforms. The proposals backed by Cuomo and legislative leaders include allowing early voting, making Election Day a state holiday and combining state and federal primaries on the same day. The Assembly and Senate are expected to pass an election reform package Monday.
Another likely table setter for legislative action is the Child Victims Act, long blocked by Republicans when they controlled the Senate with the help of eight renegade Democrats.
The measure would extend the deadline victims of child molestation to sue their abusers, giving victims up to 50 years after the alleged molestation to sue. It also would create a one-year window to file lawsuits already barred by the existing statute of limitations.
Informed this week by a reporter that the Senate and Assembly measures were basically the same, Cuomo responded "well, then it's going to be easy" to get it passed.
Cuomo again dismissed talk about a potential presidential run and again threw his support to Biden.
Cuomo, who won a third term last fall, has already said that the only reason he wouldn't serve out his third term is if "God strikes me dead."
During an interview this past week on Albany-based public radio station WAMC, Cuomo cited his own father's very public back-and-forth over whether to seek the White House. The younger Cuomo said he wants to avoid a repeat.
"I have seen this movie. It was called Mario Cuomo and the presidency," he said. "I do not want to go through the ambiguity."
Cuomo said he continues to believe Biden is the Democrats' best choice for taking back the presidency.
"I believe Joe Biden should run. I believe Joe Biden will run," he said.