ALBANY - (Updates with detail on new agreement, comment from UFC)
Mixed martial arts, which hasn't been able to beat Albany's power politics for years, is on the verge of gaining approval to hold bouts in New York.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) worked directly with Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Utica) over the weekend to amend a bill so that an identical measure was in the Senate and Assembly on Monday.
"We're getting much more optimistic," Morelle said in an interview Monday. He said he is still pushing the bill in committee to gain enough votes from within the Democratic majority for approval before the bill is brought to the floor for a final vote.
The Senate approved a bill in March. If the amended bill passes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law.
"Joe took this on personally," Griffo said of Morelle, saying that made the difference in the measure's chances this year.
One of the main opponents to the effort is no longer in power to block the bill. Longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was replaced earlier this session after he was charged with corruption.
Silver has been replaced by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who has indicated he will let the bill come to the floor if a majority of members call for it.
There have been sharp divisions over the years within the Assembly's Democratic majority. Many members from New York City found the sport barbaric. Supporters, led by the Senate's Republican majority, said the sport has become safer with rule changes in recent years and could be an economic boost when events are held in New York.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship league that runs the sport has been a major lobbying force and campaign contributor in Albany for years.
The legislative session is scheduled to end Wednesday, but lawmakers said they expect to remain in session through Friday.
Among changes to the bill is better insurance coverage for the athletes, including a $1 million policy to cover medical costs with life-threatening brain injuries suffered in a bout, which the UFC said is rare.
The UFC called them some of the strongest protections for athletes in the country.
"The UFC is strongly supportive of Assemblyman Morelle's and Sen. Griffo's efforts and we hope this is the year New York joins 49 other states," said UFC spokesman Steven Greenberg.