NY state lawmakers' agenda limited in last 2 weeks

The State Capitol Building of sthe state of

The State Capitol Building of sthe state of New York is pictured in Albany, USA, 17 April 2013. The parliamentary building was built between 1867 and 1899. Photo Credit: AP / Arno Burgi

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ALBANY - State lawmakers are facing a limited final agenda as they aim to close down the 2014 legislative session.

A package of bills to curb heroin abuse could be the only major issue the State Legislature takes up in its final two weeks in session starting Monday. A proposal to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes has a chance, too.

Otherwise, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "women's agenda," public financing of campaigns, and a hike in the minimum wage appear unlikely. Provincial bills -- such as renewing legislation to authorize red-light cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties -- will take up most of lawmakers' time.

With the governor and all 213 legislative seats up for election this fall, lawmakers are eager to hit the campaign trail. Further, rising tensions among the governor and factions of the State Senate don't bode well for resolving many high-profile issues before the session ends June 19.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Cuomo's recent call for new Senate leadership will "make things more challenging" over the homestretch.

"We always continue discussions. But most of the more controversial things will be brought up next year," Skelos said recently.

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Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said major agreements appear doubtful.

"We're not controlling the agenda," Stewart-Cousins said during a radio interview, noting the Senate is run by Republicans and a faction of Democrats dubbed the Independent Democratic Conference. "That is the job of the Republicans and the IDC. There are things that still need to be done."

An attempt to slow the rampant rise of heroin use is one thing lawmakers generally agree on. Republican and Democrats, urban, suburban and rural lawmakers have introduced dozens of proposals.

They range from changing laws covering inpatient treatment to using shuttered state prisons as treatment centers to equipping schools with a heroin-overdose antidote.

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), who led a Senate task force that held heroin hearings around the state, said lawmakers hope to reach an agreement but acknowledged, "We are coming down to the wire," referring to the scheduled adjournment.


Call for a special session

"I would actually call on the governor to call a special session of the State Legislature to deal with the heroin and opioid situation," Boyle said recently. "But hopefully we would not need that."

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Legislative support for medical marijuana is growing, but it's unclear if lawmakers will act on it this month. The Assembly approved a marijuana bill in May, but the measure doesn't match the one state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) is advancing in the Senate.

Savino said she is trying to work out the differences with Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan). "We have to get language everybody is comfortable with," Savino said.

Skelos previously said the Senate likely would vote on the issue before adjourning. Cuomo has made it clear he's not in favor of a broad medical marijuana program, so the Senate would be throwing the issue on his plate if it takes up the legislation.

Most of the other high-profile issues have stalled in the politically split Senate. Cuomo and lawmakers have said there isn't a majority of votes to pass an abortion proposal Cuomo has included in his 10-point "women's agenda" or a bill to make children of immigrants in the country illegally eligible for the state's college tuition-assistance program.


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Minimum wage falters

And though Cuomo has changed his position on allowing localities to mandate a higher minimum wage, that idea might not reach the Senate floor this month. Cuomo opposed such an idea, raised by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, earlier this year. But he switched as part of his successful bid to win the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party.

The party and some Democrats are fighting to allow localities to raise the minimum wage, currently $8 per hour, to $10.10 per hour and index it to the cost of living. Without any change, the state's minimum wage will rise to $9 per hour in January.

But proponents acknowledged they might have to wait until after this year's elections -- and hope that the Democrats pick up Senate seats. "One way or another, we're going to pass it," said WFP co-executive director Karen Scharff.

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