Senate passes gambling expansion plan

Walmart shoppers in Farmingdale react to the possibility of casinos coming to Long Island. Videojournalists: Jessica Rotkiewicz and Elise Apelain (June 19, 2013)

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ALBANY -- New York lawmakers approved a massive gambling expansion plan on Friday as one of their last acts of a 2013 legislative session.

The state Assembly on Friday approved one bill by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to amend the state constitution to allow non-Indian-run casinos and another to authorize four upstate casinos and sanction two video-slot-machine parlors on Long Island.

"Revenue to our counties means one thing: We won't have to raise property taxes," said Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square), noting that Nassau and Suffolk counties each would host 1,000 video slot machines, also known as video lottery terminals.

In contrast, Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) called gambling a "false opportunity" that preys on the vulnerable.

"The people of the state of New York are being sold a bill of goods," Parker said. "Gambling hurts our communities."

The Assembly passed the gambling plan, 83-44. The Senate followed suit, 48-11, Friday night.

Voters would have to approve the constitutional amendment in a referendum this fall. If they do, it would mark the largest single expansion of casino gambling in state history, officials said.

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The fight over Cuomo's proposal to strengthen abortion rights captured much of the emotional energy of the final day of the session -- even though the proposal's political chances hadn't changed in six months.

Cuomo offered a 10-point "women's agenda" that included popular measures to crack down on human trafficking, domestic violence and workplace discrimination. It also contained a controversial proposal to codify Roe v. Wade abortion rights under state law.

Senate Republicans, with several Democrats, defeated a surprise amendment on Friday that would have forced the chamber to vote on the abortion measure. The Senate began voting on the nine other measures, which had broad support. Earlier this week, the Democrat-led state Assembly approved all 10 items in one bill.

Because the Senate and Assembly will have passed different versions of the women's initiatives, none will become law.

By mid-afternoon, more than two dozen Democratic assemblywomen held an impromptu news conference demanding the Senate vote on the entire "women's agenda" as one package. Minutes later, several Republican assemblywomen held their own event insisting that the Assembly allow votes on each separate measure -- arguing it was the pragmatic way to get something done.

In January, just weeks after Cuomo unveiled his agenda, Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he would block the abortion proposal. Six months of maneuvers failed to change the outcome.

Lawmakers also were expected to approve a Cuomo "tax-free SUNY" plan to attempt to lure businesses to locate near public universities. Private colleges can participate in a limited way.

Supporters said it was worth a try. Opponents said it was a gimmick for Cuomo to boost his upstate ratings.

For the past month, Cuomo and rank-and-file lawmakers have tried to shift the focus off a string of political scandals that included a scheme to rig the New York City mayoral ballot, the disclosure that some lawmakers have been working with prosecutors to secretly record their colleagues and a sexual-harassment investigation that triggered a resignation and lawsuits.

Amid the new scandals, two ex-senators were sent to jail on corruption charges from previous years.

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Cuomo had proposed changing campaign-finance laws and allowing him to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible violations. After lawmakers failed to consider the plan, Cuomo on Friday reiterated that he would convene a special panel to investigate them. The governor said he would launch the panel "very, very soon; we're talking a matter of days."

ON THE AGENDA

Here are some of the Long Island-focused issues on the docket on Friday, the last expected day of the 2013 state legislative session.

DENNISON BUILDING

A Suffolk County bid to sell the Dennison Building and lease it back, for an estimated $70 million cash infusion, was approved by the Assembly but on hold in the Senate.

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NASSAU BORROWING

A Nassau County appeal for permission to borrow $305 million to pay property-tax refunds failed.

NASSAU TAXES

A Nassau County request to renew its sales tax and motel/hotel tax was expected to be approved.

SANDY TAX RELIEF

A bill to lower property-tax assessments for properties damaged 20 percent or more by superstorm Sandy was passed by the Assembly and expected to be approved by Senate.

PINE BARRENS

A bill to protect more lands in the Carmans River watershed by adding them to the Central Pine Barrens Area was approved by both houses.

BOATING RULES

A bill to mandate that anyone born on or after May 1, 1996, must have a boater safety certificate in order to operate a boat unsupervised was approved by both houses.

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