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State corruption deal would take away convicted pols’ pensions

ALBANY — Lawmakers said Thursday they were close to deals to take away pensions from officials convicted of corruption, expand charter schools and extend mayoral control of New York City schools for just one year, as they rushed to close out the 2016 legislative session.

On a day where the discussion was dominated by vices, lawmakers haggled over a pension forfeiture bill (after years of promising to do so), as a way of addressing the 2015 corruption scandals that rocked New York politics. Several lawmakers said the issue was all but settled, but officials stressed that the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hadn’t signed off on anything.

Earlier Thursday, legislators gave final passage to a series of bills designed to address the growth in heroin and opioid addiction. They approved a bill to re-privatize the New York Racing Association, which oversees horse racing at Belmont Park and other tracks. They said the Senate and Assembly had a conceptual agreement on allowing daily fantasy sports wagering and were trying to settle an anti-ticket-scalping proposal.

On regional issues, Long Island lawmakers spearheaded the approval of a bill to roll back the power of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop property regardless of local control. They approved legislation that provides a compromise for the use of Kings Point Park. Additionally, they were attempting to authorize a test program in Suffolk County that would give alternatives to sentencing 16- and 17-year-old felony convicts to state prison.

The pension-forfeiture bill had been kicked around for years, gaining steam after last year’s convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, the former leaders of the Assembly and Senate, respectively. Good-government groups had urged a more dynamic overhaul, including changing significant campaign-finance laws and closing a loophole that allows companies to form spin-offs to skirt limits on corporate contributions. Those pleas were ignored and some legislators were less than impressed with a focus just on pensions.

“It took us this long to get to this no-brainer?” said Sen. Liz Krueger.

The pension proposal actually requires New York voters to approve the change in a constitutional amendment, which could happen no earlier than 2017.

Tied into that discussion were proposals to change campaign-finance laws and, in a small, last-minute surprise, rules governing charter schools, as well as a boost in the overall number.

Rank-and-file legislators said they were all but agreed to extend mayoral control over New York City schools for one year. Mayor Bill de Blasio had asked for three but faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans. The deal would include more capital funds for the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

Among other issues, lawmakers:

  • Approved a package of bills aimed at combating heroin and opioid addiction. It would expand access to treatment and increase insurance coverage.
  • Approved a bill to rein-in the MTA’s power to develop its parcels regardless of local input. Several Long Island mayors had said they fear that the MTA could build on land it controls — or lease land to a private developer — without obeying zoning codes or paying property taxes. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had backed an expansion of the MTA’s authority as part of the state budget, so it wasn’t clear if he’d veto the bill.
  • Advanced a bill to establish a two-year “demonstration program” that would give Suffolk County judges authority to direct teenage felons to a prison alternative, making them participate in treatment and other programs offered through the Office of Children and Family Services. The Senate approved the bill; key Assembly backers said they expected the chamber to follow suit. They said it could reduce recidivism and gave youthful offenders a second chance.
  • Approved a bill that would allow the Village of Kings Point to use 1.1 acres of Kings Point Park for public works equipment, a bill that was triggered by a 2014 court decision that evicted the village from the park after 70 years of usage.
  • Approved a bill that would re-privatize NYRA and limit Cuomo to two appointees on an oversight board. Cuomo had wanted five appointees and a tighter rein on revenue flowing to NYRA; so the fate of the legislators’ bill is uncertain.
  • Advanced a bill to allow daily fantasy sports in New York. But they were still haggling with the governor’s office over details.

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