Groups meet with Cuomo on women's equality agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- Advancing a "women's agenda" that some see as a bid for the national stage, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday met with 13 advocacy groups that formed a coalition to get his new 10-step equality plan enacted.

The platform, which bundles protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and trafficking with pay equity and abortion reforms, builds on other progressive themes, such as raising the minimum wage, which also were included in Cuomo's third State of the State speech.

"This agenda is a clear articulation of what women's equality truly means," said Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

With female voters increasingly determining elections, Cuomo's championing of these issues has sparked speculation that he was playing for a more national profile. The Democratic governor also has faced criticism from his party's liberal wing that he's been too cozy with Republicans.

But some analysts downplayed the idea that Cuomo is trying to move beyond the state's borders, saying it's too easy to view everything through the lens of the 2016 presidential elections.

"If he said let's have a pizza party, everyone would say 'Oh, it's the presidential agenda, he's trying to get Italian [votes],' " said George Arzt, a political consultant.

Hank Sheinkopf, another political consultant who works with Democrats, said Cuomo was focused on succeeding in his current post -- and likely would prevail in this battle. "You can reasonably presume if he announces a particular agenda, he's already got the means to do it."

Assembly Democrats have enacted versions of some of Cuomo's proposals, such as pay equality. But Senate Republicans have spurned that measure, fearing it would overburden businesses, and conservative members might oppose abortion reforms.

Cuomo noted he must win a few GOP votes in the Senate, which have not been identified. "But sometimes there are issues I believe should be raised and should be fought for, and this is one of our top priorities," he said.

Kelly Cummings, a spokeswoman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said the Senate would review current laws to see how they might be improved.

"Sen. Skelos believes that it's important to ensure every New Yorker has the same basic rights, the same opportunity to succeed and get ahead, and that all of our residents have access to the health care services they need and deserve," Cummings said.

Though New York was one of the first states to legalize abortions in 1970, late-term abortions are allowed only if the mother's life is in danger, not if her health is at risk, according to NARAL officials.

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference, said the group supported proposals such as cracking down on domestic violence, trafficking and workplace discrimination, but opposes the abortion measure.

"They shouldn't be using these other positive measures to enhance women's dignity to get an abortion bill rammed through," Poust said.

With Yancey Roy

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