Assembly minority leader lends support for MMA in New York

Jon Jones fought Chael Sonnen at UFC 159

Jon Jones fought Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (April 27, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/Mario Gonzalez)

As the legislative session in New York State draws closer to its final day on June 20, Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb voiced his support for legalizing mixed martial arts.

"The Assembly Majority Conference has an opportunity to move forward with an important job-creating measure, and I encourage Speaker [Sheldon] Silver to ensure a vote is taken on mixed martial arts (MMA) legislation, Assembly Bill A.6506," Kolb said in a statement Tuesday.

The bill, which in March passed the State Senate for a fourth consecutive year, has stalled in the Assembly each year for various reasons.

"MMA is legal and thriving in 48 other states," said Kolb (R-Canandaigua). "It is long past time for the Assembly Majority to bring the measure to the floor. It is time for an up-or-down vote from the entire Assembly."

On Wednesday, Connecticut legalized mixed martial arts, making New York the lone remaining state with a ban on the sport. Also Wednesday, Canada legalized MMA in all of its provinces.

Silver, the longtime Assembly Speaker and one of the most powerful officials in the state, said Monday that he doesn't believe the female members in his Democratic conference support lifting the ban. Silver (D-Manhattan) has also drawn criticism from many Republicans for mishandling a sexual harassment scandal involving Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn). A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed that 51 percent of New Yorkers think Silver should resign.

Of the bill's 64 sponsors, nine are women.

Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO and chairman of Ultimate Fighting Championship, has said many times in the past two years that he believes the votes are there to pass the bill. A simple majority of the Assembly's 150 voting members is needed to pass it. Assuming all 64 sponsors were to vote in favor of the bill they're sponsoring, that would leave 12 yes votes needed from the remaining 86 members.

"Assembly members from both conferences recognize that this bill will generate jobs, increase revenue for local governments and stimulate economic activity across New York, particularly in upstate communities where it is vitally needed," Kolb said. "New Yorkers deserve measures that facilitate a stronger economy, and this bill - at the very least - deserves to come to a vote."

Legalizing MMA would boost economic activity in the cities that host events. UFC, the world's largest MMA promotion, has lobbied for years to overturn the ban first enacted by Gov. George E. Pataki in 1997. The UFC has promised to hold four events per year in the first three years once the sport becomes legal. That includes a fight night at Madison Square Garden, plus events across upstate in cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

Under the proposed bill, New York State would collect 8.5 percent sales taxes on gross ticket receipts and 3 percent of gross receipts for broadcast rights, capped at $50,000. Plus, there's the additional economic impact from hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc. -- an estimated $23 million per year statewide, according to a 2011 independent study by strategic firm HR&A Advisors.

"We were elected to act in the best interests of the people, and to represent their concerns through public policy development, debate and dialogue," Kolb said. "Unfortunately, that process has been stifled here. Each member of the Assembly should have the opportunity to vote on MMA legislation and provide the kind of representation the public expects. It is time for Speaker Silver to bring MMA legislation to the floor and allow his members the opportunity to do what they were elected to do."

Connecticut's State Senate passed its bill by a 26-9 vote Wednesday. Its House of Representatives had voted 117-26 in favor of legalizing MMA earlier during their legislative session.

“Not only will New York be the only state to ban professional MMA, it will continue to be the only state to allow amateur MMA – albeit unregulated and potentially dangerous – while banning professional MMA,” Fertitta said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s time, New York. The Senate has passed the bill four years in a row by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. It’s time for the Assembly to allow the bill to be voted upon. It’s time for New York to legalize and regulate MMA.”
 

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