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Heroin, fantasy sports, teacher evaluations top state agenda

Heroin, daily fantasy sports, Uber and teacher evaluations

Heroin, daily fantasy sports, Uber and teacher evaluations top the agenda as the governor and lawmakers head into the final week of the 2016 legislative session in the state capitol in Albany Photo Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Heroin, daily fantasy sports, Uber and teacher evaluations top the agenda as the governor and lawmakers head into the final week of the 2016 legislative session. They also must grapple with the politically sticky issue of mayoral control of New York City schools.

Corruption is getting some mention, but it’s not clear if lawmakers will act following probes that have upended New York politics.

Here’s a look at some of the issues getting the most attention as lawmakers moved toward Thursday, the last scheduled day of the 2016 legislative session:

Heroin

Democrats and Republicans, upstate and downstate, all agree the state needs to do more to address the growth in heroin addiction and affiliated issues. In March, lawmakers agreed to earmark $166 million specifically to combat addiction and overdoses. But they couldn’t agree on how to spend the money.

And with just several working days remaining in the session, they still haven’t.

Lawmakers have called for increased funding for addiction treatment, but a sticking point centers around mandated insurance coverage. Still, with legislators having held numerous hearings on the topic and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently weighing in with his own task force, this appears like one issue lawmakers are committed to addressing before they leave.

“There is a great commonality of interest; we want to get to a resolution not just for those in desperate need for treatment, but their families as well, to feel they are in a good place,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

NYC schools

The law giving the mayor’s office control of schools, enacted during the Bloomberg years, is set to expire June 30. The Democratic-led Assembly and Cuomo have called for a three-year extension.

Flanagan favors one year with new limits on the mayor’s authority. The political reason? Senate Republicans and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been mortal enemies since the mayor helped Democrats in an unsuccessful attempt to win control of the Senate two years ago.

The animosity has continued, with de Blasio skipping a Senate hearing on the issue and Flanagan had saying he had “left too many unanswered questions about his stewardship” of the schools. That makes it likely the Senate will go for no more than a one-year extension, some lawmakers think.

Teacher evaluations

Last year, the state backtracked on Common Core and put a four-year moratorium on a Cuomo-driven plan to tie teacher evaluations to students’ scores on standardized tests. But lawmakers didn’t touch a mandate that schools have a state-approved teacher-evaluation plan as a condition to receive some elements of financial aid.

Some lawmakers are making a last-minute push to de-link plans and aid, but some officials think it’s an uphill fight so late in the session.

Daily fantasy sports

Two key lawmakers have said there is a conceptual framework for a law to legalize daily fantasy sports games in New York, though it’s not clear yet if other legislators are on board.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has sued DraftKings and FanDuel, the two companies that control 95 percent of the market, claiming their games are forms of illegal gambling and aiming to shut them down. The legal action has been put on hold while the legislature debates the issue. The two companies have stopped doing business in New York for now.

On the table is a proposal to declare DFS games of “skill,” not chance, — thereby skirting the state constitutional ban on gambling — charge them a registration fee and tax the companies 15 percent of gross revenue in New York.

Ride sharing upstate

Uber, Lyft and other taxi competitors began the year pushing for a statewide framework for livery service that they say would allow them to expand, especially in upstate cities.

That talk has all but fizzled and their sights are set lower: a law that would allow them to buy insurance policies for drivers, which could still allow them to break into some markets. Companies such as Uber would still have to get permission from local governments in which they want to operate. But they contend the rates lawmakers are considering would make their business cost-prohibitive.

Upstate taxi groups have mounted a vigorous counterattack, saying the insurance law would create an unfair playing field — Uber and Lyft drivers wouldn’t face requirements such as fingerprinting that add to the costs of cab service.

Corruption

Cuomo and legislators say they want to take away pensions of lawmakers convicted on corruption charges.

They said they had the same agreement two years ago, but failed to follow through. This time, they say they are serious, following the convictions of ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan.

Broader reforms attacking what critics call a “pay to play” culture in Albany (campaign contributions in exchange for influence and contracts) seem unlikely. Cuomo has made a late call to rein in so-called “independent expenditures” committees – special interest groups that form committees that aren’t subject to strict campaign-finance laws.

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