Albany session ends, and assessments begin

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (Jan. 19, 2012)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (Jan. 19, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

ALBANY - Though most of the action occurred in the first half, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers are congratulating themselves for a "magnificent" 2012 legislative session.

They're touting new systems for tracking prescription painkillers and evaluating teachers, tax breaks for craft breweries, state pension reductions and a move to dramatically expand casino gambling in New York.

But there also is plenty that fell by the wayside. A minimum-wage hike, fiscal rescues for Nassau and Rockland counties and other municipalities, restrictions on "call centers" overseas, and a tax on "roll your own" cigarette shops all died.

Evaluating himself, the Democratic governor said 2012 was the "most productive and broadest-reaching in modern Albany political history."

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) sounded a similar tone, saying: "New York State residents can be proud of a functioning state government."

Not everyone is cheering. A watchdog group found the assessments smug.

"Self-congratulatory rhetoric is out of sync with the actual modest achievements of the 2012 legislative session," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause. "The fact that an on-time budget and orderly end of session continue to make headlines in New York shows that our expectations are extraordinarily low."

To be sure, 2012 didn't have the electricity of 2011, when lawmakers enacted the state's first-ever property-tax cap and drew national and international attention by legalizing same-sex marriage.

Some are happy about what didn't happen. The Business Council of New York State crowed that it helped "to defeat a wide range of bills that would increase burdens on business," including the proposed minimum-wage hike.

Technically, the session is over. But many lawmakers expect to return after Election Day to clean up unfinished business -- and perhaps vote themselves their first pay hike in 13 years.

Assemb. Dan Burling, a Buffalo-area Republican who is retiring, gave a farewell speech but punctuated it with: "And I will be back to vote for your pay raise," drawing cheers and laughs from his colleagues.

Here's a look at the major action of 2012:

Teacher evaluations. Lawmakers created a 100-point rating system and categories (highly effective, effective, developing, ineffective). Later, they passed a law to limit access to the evaluations to parents only.

Gambling expansion. Lawmakers gave first passage to a constitutional amendment to allow up to seven non-Indian-run casinos. They must pass it again next year, before it goes to a statewide referendum.

Prescription painkillers. Lawmakers, spurred by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, enacted a "real-time" database to track prescriptions to prevent addicts and others from stockpiling powerful painkillers such as hydrocodone.

Aqueduct. Cuomo announced, then later scrapped, a plan to allow a Malaysian casino company build a massive convention center and expand its current video-slot machine operation at the racetrack.

Local bailouts. Lawmakers said "no" to a number of requests to borrow millions of dollars to pay bills, including Nassau County, Nassau University Medical Center, Rockland County and the city of Long Beach.

Minimum wage hike. Republicans blocked it, despite strong public support.

Decriminalizing marijuana. Republicans balked at Cuomo's call to make possession of up to 25 grams (63 "joints," they calculated) a violation rather than a misdemeanor.

Tanning and piercing. Legislators passed bills to ban anyone 16 and younger from going to tanning booths and prohibit anyone younger than 18 from getting a body piercing without parental approval. Cuomo hasn't taken a position yet.

DNA databank. The law will require anyone convicted of a misdemeanor to submit a DNA sample.

Organ donation. Driver's license applicants will be required to check yes or no when they apply, which will likely boost donation candidates. Currently, answering the question is optional.

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