ALBANY — A ban on “child marriages” and mayoral control of New York City schools are the only odds-on favorites for passage during the remainder of this legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 21.
However, when lawmakers return to Albany on Monday after an 11-day Memorial Day break, they will continue working on measures that could become part of a traditional end-of-session “big ugly” deal. That’s when disparate measures that couldn’t gain approval on their own are linked to bigger initiatives with broader support.
Those bills include an indoor ban on e-cigarettes, pension “sweeteners” for teachers and other public employees, and a boost to the oyster and clam populations to help clean Long Island’s coastal waters of nitrogen.
Majority legislators in the Senate and Assembly have built support this year to change an old state law that allows children as young as 14 years old to be married, forcing them to abandon education and other opportunities. Between 2000 and 2010, at least 3,850 children between the ages of 14 and 18 were legally married in New York, and 84 percent were the marriage of a girl to an adult man, according to state data.
The bill would set the minimum age for marriage to 17 years old, with a judge’s approval.
“Girls are coerced or forced into marriage across New York State,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), a co-sponsor. “This bill would prevent this unconscionable act from occurring in our state.”
“It happens right here in our very own backyard,” said the bill’s other co-sponsor, Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).
Far more contentious an issue is mayoral control of New York City schools, which makes mayors more powerful and more accountable in the performance of schools. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said an extension of at least two years is a top priority. He dismissed an earlier effort by the Senate’s Republican majority to link its support to lifting a cap on the number of publicly funded but privately run charter schools in the state, which is a GOP priority.
Allowing mayoral control to lapse back to a system of community school boards would be a major loss for Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio this year as he seeks re-election. But even Senate Republicans — in conflict with de Blasio for years — have eased their opposition to the bill after requiring de Blasio to provide more data on his stewardship of city schools.
“Mayoral control should be extended on its own merits,” Heastie said. “We’re not interested in adding any other criteria to extend the governance of schools.”
Among the contenders facing longer odds are:
- Procurement reform sought by the legislature. That would require greater oversight of the Cuomo administration’s contracting and economic development programs that offer companies tax breaks to retain or grow jobs. The bill would also restore some pre-auditing power to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, which has eroded under Cuomo. The effort follows federal investigations into some of Cuomo’s biggest economic development projects in Buffalo.
- A “Buy American” plan in which American-made goods and products would gain preference in purchases over $100,000.
- A ban on use of e-cigarettes inside public places under the Clean Indoor Air Act that targeted traditional tobacco smoking.
- Ending the five-year statute of limitations on taking criminal and civil action in sexual crimes against children. Advocates said it often takes years for victims to confront their abusers and 40,000 children are sexually abused statewide each year.
- Pension sweeteners for public worker and teacher unions influential with the legislature that are commonly sneaked into the late-June rush of legislation, but which fiscal watchdogs argue are political favors that are costly to taxpayers. The independent Citizens Budget Commission said more than 120 bills worth hundreds of millions of dollars in added pension benefits have been proposed so far.