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With new leader, Assembly breaks logjam over 'women's agenda'

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) on March 10,

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) on March 10, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -  In one of his first notable acts as a new political leader, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie shepherded an anti-human trafficking bill through the chamber Monday, abandoning a strategy that tied it and numerous other bills to a controversial abortion proposal.

The bill will increase penalties and create the new crimes of aggravated labor trafficking and "aggravated patronizing a minor for prostitution."

Heastie (D-Bronx) agreed to break up a 10-point "women's agenda" that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and advocates backed, into separate bills. That enables nine of the proposals that enjoy widespread support to stand on their own and possibly win approval.

That stands in contrast to two years ago when Cuomo and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver initially demanded all 10 proposals to be voted on as one bill -- a political calculation to force the Republican-led Senate to take a vote on abortion-rights. After Republicans balked, Cuomo later introduced the proposals as separate bills.

The stalemate was used in last year's elections -- Cuomo even launched a minor political party dubbed the "Women's Equality Party". But it didn't work in Senate races as the GOP strengthened its hold.

Heastie succeeded Silver (D-Manhattan), after the longtime Speaker was arrested on federal corruption charges. The combination prompted the strategy change, lawmakers said.

"There was a combination of a new Speaker and a shift in the position" of women legislators and women's advocacy groups, said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), sponsor of the anti-trafficking law, which was approved Monday, 141-0. She said the Republican success in the Senate "meant we have fewer pro-choice votes. So there was a reality."

Heastie noted: "This was the direction the conference wanted to go."

He sidestepped questions about whether the Democrats gained or lost anything through the stalemate, or should have acted sooner.

The Senate already passed Paulin's bill and Cuomo vowed to sign it.

But the other proposals -- such as pay equity and anti-domestic violence proposals -- will have to be negotiated separately because of differences with Senate Republicans.

Silver, who resigned as speaker but retained his Assembly seat, said Monday the all-or-nothing strategy was favored by abortion-rights groups who felt it was the best way to get Roe v. Wade rights codified into state law.

"A lot of the women in (the Assembly), a lot of the women's groups felt that was best," Silver said.



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