New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference...

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany (Feb. 29, 2012) Credit: AP

In voting that ended early Thursday, the State Legislature passed major bills that will cut pension benefits for future workers, authorize a major expansion of casino gambling, expand New York's criminal DNA database and cement new election districts for the state Senate and Assembly.

Here's what the bills will do:


Pensions

The plan will cover all new state and local government employees except New York City police and firefighters. New employees will have less generous pension benefits when they retire than current workers. The plan, called Tier VI, raises the retirement age from 62 to 63, increases the amount of money employees must contribute, requires more highly paid workers to contribute more than lower paid workers and lowers benefits overall.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had sought to eliminate overtime from calculations used to determine benefits so that employees can't load up on overtime in their final years of service to boost their pension. But the final legislation only limits the effect of overtime on final calculations.

Cuomo had sought to make a 401(k)-type option available to all new employees, a move unions fought. That option wasn't completely scrapped, but it was limited to nonunion employees making $75,000 a year or more.


Casino gambling

A constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling would allow seven Las Vegas-style gaming facilities to be built in the state. The language doesn't say where the casinos could go. The governor has touted casino gambling as economic development that would keep more gaming money in the state. The Legislature must pass the amendment again next year before it can go to a voter referendum in 2013.


Redistricting

The legislative majorities -- Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate -- got the district lines they had drawn for themselves. But they agreed to a Cuomo-backed proposal for a constitutional amendment to create a more independent process following the 2020 Census. Cuomo had threatened to veto the lines, which critics had derided as gerrymandering aimed at protecting incumbents and reducing the power of minority populations. States redraw their congressional and legislative district lines every 10 years to reflect population changes. Legislators were unable to agree on congressional lines and a judge-appointed magistrate took over the process. That could still happen with legislative lines, but the legislative vote makes that much less likely. The constitutional amendment will have to be passed again next year and then go to the voters for approval.


DNA database

The state's DNA database will expand to include anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor after Oct. 1. Those who are convicted of low-level marijuana possession and who have no prior criminal record are exempt. Supporters say the law will increase authorities' ability to identify suspects who have been convicted of crimes in the past. The measure also gives criminal defendants access to the DNA database before trial. DNA has been used both to convict criminals and exonerate people wrongly convicted of crimes. A person who pleaded guilty to a crime will now be able to ask a judge for access to DNA information to try to prove innocence.

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