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Lingering issues have lawmakers on standby

ALBANY -- Ahhh . . . the days are longer, warmer and the legislators are gone. But they're already talking about coming back.

A top senator predicted his colleagues would reconvene at the Capitol shortly after negotiations with the Public Employees Federation yield a contract proposal. The State Legislature would be asked to approve whatever salary structure is contained in the new contract.

"I would think once that's negotiated and agreed to by the union, we'll be brought back as soon as possible," said Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who chairs the chamber's Finance Committee.

Senators closed their formal session last month after a week dominated by closed-door deliberations and a "hectic last few hours" in which senators passed bills capping property taxes and legalizing same-sex marriage. Members quickly left town.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for majority Senate Republicans, said the Senate would return before the start of the scheduled 2012 legislative year in January, but "there's no definitive timetable at this point."

Negotiations between the union and aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are ongoing, and the administration is currently moving forward with layoffs of PEF members.

Cuomo said Friday that negotiators have extended to PEF the same, five-year, tentative offer pending approval by the Civil Service Employees Association, a notion PEF's president disputed. The proposed CSEA contract would increase employee contributions to health care and freeze wages for two years before eventually including a bonus and cash raises.

Legislators already acted to change payroll appropriations for the CSEA deal, an action that would have to be replicated for PEF if a new contract agreement is reached.

Health care advocates are also calling on the Senate to approve legislation setting up a health insurance exchange, necessitated by the 2010 federal health care overhaul. A bill passed the Assembly, but the Senate adjourned without taking up the measure. In order to apply for federal assistance -- New York has already received some grants -- the Senate must act before Sept. 30.

"It's clear, from my opinion, it's something we should be doing," said Sen. David Valesky (D-Syracuse).

But some Republicans expressed concerns the action would facilitate "Obamacare," anathema to many people in the party.

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