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Battle of the bills, the COVID cover, too early to endorse

View of the New York state Senate Chamber

View of the New York state Senate Chamber as members meet on the opening day of the 2021 legislative session at the state Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

Session symbols

Call it the battle of the bills.

In one corner, State Sen. Anna Kaplan is trying to ban local governments, school districts and police and fire departments from displaying or selling "any symbols of hate or any similar image." The Democrat’s bill said these symbols "shall include, but not be limited to, symbols of white supremacy, neoNazi ideology, or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy."

In the other corner is freshman Republican State Sen. Alexis Weik, who just introduced what seems to be a response to Kaplan’s proposed legislation. Weik’s bill would permit municipalities, fire districts, police departments and school districts "to sell or display any symbols of hope or any similar image." Those symbols of hope encompassed the "lines" that have been affixed to versions of the American flag. They "shall include, but not be limited to, a thin blue line in support of law enforcement, a thin red line in support of the fire service, a thin gray line in support of corrections officers, a thin white line in support of emergency medical professionals, a thin purple line in support of security professionals, a thin yellow line in support of dispatchers, and a thin green line in support of military, border patrol and conservation officers."

"The supporters of those individuals, and the groups themselves, should be able to freely show their support by displaying these symbols of hope," the bill’s justification states.

Kaplan’s bill passed the Senate last week, but not before State Sen. George Borrello, a Buffalo-area Republican, voiced concerns that the term "symbols of hate" was too vague and could include items like the blue line flag.

But Kaplan’s bill was modeled on an existing law, one that Borrello voted for and that was passed and signed last year, that prohibited the state of New York from selling or displaying symbols of hate and included the same definition of "symbols of hate."

Nonetheless, Borrello voted against Kaplan’s bill this time around. Weik, on the other hand, voted for Kaplan’s measure. It now awaits a vote in the Assembly.

According to the Senate website, the vote on Kaplan’s bill was recorded on the same day Weik’s bill was referred to the Senate’s local government committee, where, with just a few days left in the session, it remains.

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

The COVID cover

Ask anyone whose job involves lobbying state lawmakers to pass favored pieces of legislation how things are going as the session steams toward its June 10 close, and you’re likely to hear a variation of an "f" word — frustration.

"This is the most frustrating session in my 30 years," Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told The Point.

"Yes, this has been frustrating for sure," confirmed Jessica Ottney Mahar of The Nature Conservancy.

COVID-19 is the culprit, of course, with advocates and others banned from the State Capitol since the early days of the pandemic. Not that there have been that many legislators present on many days, either.

So the fine art of persuasion has become a little more impersonal, with advocates rediscovering that face-to-face meetings are more effective than those on Zoom or by phone.

Ottney Mahar wrote in an email that while Zoom is helpful, "not having the option to enter the Capitol and find people for quick meetings during a very busy time does make the process more difficult."

Esposito, well-versed in the wiles of Albany, sees a willfulness in keeping the Capitol walled off, at least for now.

"It went from being a COVID concern to now, I feel like it’s a COVID cover where some elected officials are seeming to enjoy less access to the public," she said.

Whatever the degree of truth in the COVID cover, the feeling is decidedly not mutual.

— Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

No thanks

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Final Point

Too early to endorse

Among the political figures who attended Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn’s CD1 launch in Stony Brook on Wednesday were the two most recent Democratic contenders for that seat, businessman Perry Gershon and scientist Nancy Goroff.

The Point checked in with the former candidates — both of whom lost to current gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin in the general — to ask about how their presence should be interpreted, given that Goroff herself had been eyeing a run this cycle and there are multiple Democrats in the mix already who could receive their support.

"I’ve known Kara for years and was happy to attend her launch," said Goroff. "She will certainly be a formidable candidate."

Was she endorsing the legislature’s deputy presiding officer, and had she made a decision about a run herself?

"No news on that front today," Goroff replied.

Gershon said similarly that he liked Hahn "very much" and believed she’d be "a great nominee." However: "I am not endorsing any candidate this early."

He said he wanted to see the "strongest Democrat prevail."

Gershon noted that he made the stop en route from East Hampton to meet his sons at the Knicks playoff game at MSG — a losing effort, which Democrats hope won’t be the description in 2022 when their candidate faces voters.

"Very tough game," Gershon said about the Atlanta Hawks’ 14-point win.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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