State Legislature Session: Missed Opportunities, Gridlock
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers left the state Capitol early Thursday with little to cheer, ending a six-month legislative session marked by gridlock, shifting alliances and blown chances.
High-profile proposals to authorize sports betting, overhaul antiquated election laws, extend the statute of limitations for child molestation and address longstanding corruption problems were introduced but never passed amid an ongoing stalemate between the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate.
The session's final days saw measures intended to improve school security fall flat. Lawmakers failed to renew the state law authorizing 140 speed cameras in the New York City school zone, meaning the city will have to deactivate the devices. Negotiations to overhaul teacher evaluations also went nowhere.
There were some accomplishments. Lawmakers passed legislation intended to make it easier to prosecute sex offenders, created new sexual harassment rules for government employees and approved congestion tolls for taxis and ride-hailing services in Manhattan. They also voted to require law enforcement to retain sexual assault evidence collection kits for 20 years, passed new disclosure rules for online political ads and enacted a tax on opioid manufacturers.
But most of the high-profile measures went nowhere.
"It's more a story of missed opportunities than a story about what got done," said Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens.
For once, lawmakers from both parties agreed.
"The 2018 Legislative Session may be a memory, but it was anything but memorable," said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua.
Republicans control the Senate only by a thin margin. An alliance with a breakaway faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democrats ended when the group rejoined mainline Democrats. That left the Senate nearly evenly split, with Republicans hanging on to control thanks to the support of one remaining renegade Democrat, Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn. That allowed each party to block the priorities of the other.
Democrats hope voters angry with President Donald Trump will help them take control of the Senate after the November elections. They say that should smooth the way for legislation including measures to authorize early voting, help immigrants and extend the statute of limitations for child molestation.
"Obviously there was unfinished business," said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who stands to lead the Senate if Democrats prevail.
Republicans saw Democrats block their proposals to authorize sports betting and increase funding for armed school security guards. Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said his party will work to hold on to the Senate, its last bastion in state government.
"We've proven that no matter who's trying to take us out we stand our ground and we win," Flanagan said. "So I'm not worried about that part."
A forceful negotiator, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has driven many of the big negotiations between lawmakers. But this year, faced with the Senate stalemate, he predicted the Legislature would "basically do nothing" after it passed the new state budget in April. As a result, Cuomo has increasingly turned his attention to Washington, trashing many of Trump's policies on immigration and the federal recovery in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Indeed, as lawmakers worked to finish the session Wednesday night Cuomo, who is seeking a third term in November, appeared on a number of television news shows to denounce Trump's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
His Democratic primary opponent, "Sex and the City" star and political activist Cynthia Nixon, blasted Cuomo for not doing more to advance his own proposals, which included eliminating cash bail for most criminal defendants.
With every lawmaker up for election in the fall, advocates and groups disappointed by the session's lack of accomplishments vowed to make legislators pay a political price.
"Make no mistake, New York teachers, parents and public school students will remember which senators voted against their public schools when we head to the polls," said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta, upset that lawmakers failed to pass a bill decoupling teacher evaluations from student test performance.
Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause-New York, ticked off a long list of bills that didn't pass, including ones to enhance ethics rules, close campaign finance loopholes and give taxpayers more information about economic development spending.
"We hired these guys to do the people's business and they can't do anything," she said. "It's a breakdown in democracy."