ALBANY -- On his first day as Senate majority leader, John Flanagan said Republicans will explore amending controversial laws covering gun control and teacher evaluations.
Flanagan (R-East Northport), in an interview with Newsday Tuesday, said he expects the Republican-led Senate to come out soon with proposals to tweak the gun law, dubbed The Safe Act, although he didn't go far into details.
He also said the Senate would push a bill he introduced just a week ago -- when he still was chairman of the Education Committee -- to delay the implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system, investigate the quality of standardized tests and revamp the selection of the state Board of Regents, who develop education policies. He called the education bill, which follows a massive testing boycott, a "parentcentric" proposal.
Flanagan, 54, said he realistically expects a short agenda for the final six weeks of the 2015 legislative session, with major issues such as rent control taking up most of the political oxygen. Flanagan, a Senate veteran since 2003, said he expects the Republicans who control the chamber to stick to the bread-and-butter GOP issues pursued by his predecessor, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who was ousted from the leadership post after being charged with corruption.
"I think it's going to be remarkably consistent," Flanagan told Newsday. "It's about taxes, jobs, property taxes. . . . To a degree, I think it's 'Stay the course' because I think the course we're on is the correct one."
Flanagan said he wants to assure his upstate colleagues the Senate won't be dominated by Long Island issues and wants to "do a fair amount of travel" around New York to grow the Republican brand.
"I want people to know who our conference is and what we stand for," he said. "I want to put our best foot forward."
Flanagan started a hectic first day with a phone call to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a workout, staff said. He went on to a live radio interview and two TV interviews. He talked with Newsday in the office of the Senate secretary because he had yet to move into the spacious majority leader's office. He met with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), presided over his first Republican strategy session and briefly attended the daily legislative session.
Flanagan took the reins of the state Senate Monday, eight days after federal prosecutors charged Skelos, 67, and his son, Adam, 32, with extortion, bribery and conspiracy. Officials alleged that the senator compelled an environmental firm and a major real estate developer to hire and send his son insurance work amounting to more than $200,000 over the past four years, in exchange for fixing a Nassau County contract and steering state legislation. Skelos has said he and his son are innocent.
Flanagan and Assemb. Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) are trying to advance the education bill to address standardized testing, teachers and the Common Core curriculum. Among other things, they said in a memo it would "provide the public more opportunity" to weigh in on those issues.
Amending gun laws might be harder because the Democratic-led Assembly has shown little interest in doing so. Flanagan, who voted for The Safe Act, didn't say exactly what Senate Republicans are considering, but cited the "inability to pass your guns to a member of your family."
Flanagan's ascension capped a remarkable stretch in Albany: Both legislative house leaders were toppled by federal corruption allegations in the span of three months. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) took over that chamber in February after Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was indicted in an alleged kickback scheme.
Asked whether Cuomo would have a distinct advantage negotiating end-of-session issues with two newcomers, Flanagan said: "Not from where I'm sitting."
He added that Senate Republicans combined have "hundreds of years of experience" backing him.