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Vaccine debate rages on

Members of the State Senate debate budget bills

Members of the State Senate debate budget bills at the Capitol in Albany on March 31, 2019. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

Daily Point

A possible solution 

Depending on who you ask, a bill that would lift New York’s religious exemption for vaccines is either stuck in the state Assembly’s health committee, with little chance of passage, or close to having enough votes to get through the committee.

In the State Senate, however, the situation seems more definitive. A Senate source told The Point Thursday that there could be a vote as early as next week – and it’s expected to pass.

The debate comes as New York grapples with a measles outbreak. There have been more than 600 cases of the measles confirmed statewide, concentrated in Brooklyn and Rockland County. New York is part of a national outbreak that includes more than 700 cases, a 25-year high, in 22 states.

The bill’s Assembly sponsor, Jeffrey Dinowitz of the Bronx told The Point on Thursday that he is “trying to round up the votes” on the committee. He needs 14 total. Committee chair Assemb. Richard Gottfried told The Point that he’d put the bill on the next committee agenda when Dinowitz says he has the votes.

“I’m close, but I’m not there yet,” Dinowitz said, although he wouldn’t say exactly how many definite “yes” votes he has. “I’m hoping, if I can line up the last votes, I think we can get it.”

But Assemb. Michaelle Solages, a member of the committee, wasn’t as hopeful.

“Currently, it doesn’t seem like there are enough votes to get this piece of legislation passed,” Solages, a Democrat, told The Point. “From what I’m hearing, it’s being stalled.”

Assemb. Andrew Raia, a Republican health committee member, voiced similar doubts.

“I think it’s going to be a problem,” Raia said of the legislation, noting that the only way that could change is if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came out with more definitive support of the bill.

Cuomo’s tune on the legislation has begun to shift. “I don’t think the religious exemption in this case with measles trumps the public health concern,” he said earlier this week.

Some state lawmakers have concerns over the legality of lifting the exemption. Others have questions about the safety of the vaccines themselves. And then there’s the anti-vax movement, which has pummeled legislators with calls and emails.

Solages, who said her office has received more than 200 calls from vaccination opponents in just over a week, said that if the bill did come up for a vote, she’d support it, but has questions about whether it would face a legal challenge. Raia, meanwhile, said he’s “soul searching,” but added: “My job is to weigh both sides and then make a judgment and err on the side of public health.”

At least one Assembly member wondered whether it would take a tragedy -- a death from measles, for instance -- for state lawmakers to push the bill forward. But Dinowitz hopes the current outbreak is bad enough to get their attention.

“We’ve got to do it,” Dinowitz said. “There’s an emergency going on.”

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Moving on

Yacov Shamash has been instrumental to economic development on Long Island and to the creation and expansion of Stony Brook University’s incubators, which have turned research at the university into successful businesses.

But as of last month, Shamash is no longer Stony Brook’s vice president of economic development, a title he held for 19 years. And Thursday afternoon, the business community will celebrate Shamash, who has been key to many of Long Island’s economic efforts over the years.

The party also will be a chance to welcome new Stony Brook vice president of research, Richard Reeder, and associate vice president for technology partnerships, Peter Donnelly. The university is folding its economic development office into its research operations, and will no longer have anyone in the title Shamash held.

Shamash isn’t leaving Stony Brook, a place he’s called home for 27 years. He’ll still be a tenured professor in electrical and computer engineering. But he’s going to take a year off to do energy-related research.

That doesn’t mean Shamash won’t be involved in the Island’s economy going forward. He told The Point he hopes to work on issues “key to Long Island’s future,” including energy, offshore wind and wireless technology. And he’ll be available as an economic development consultant, too.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

The only thing we have to fear...

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Final Point

Waiting for de Blasio

There are more than 20 Democratic candidates seeking the presidency. Thursday added another one: Michael Bennet, Colorado senator and not exactly a household name.

But the Empire State is still awaiting the decision of another of its own: Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The term-limited mayor said on Thursday that he’ll be making a decision in May, but there have been several hints that a launch announcement could be imminent.

Last week, de Blasio’s unofficial campaign page suddenly reawakened for the first time in a calendar year and started running advertisements.

All were nationally focused or talked about what New York could teach the nation. President Donald Trump was a common punching bag. One of the ads depicts de Blasio’s biracial family, reminiscent of an influential ad featuring his son, Dante, from his first mayoral campaign.

According to Facebook’s political ad archive, de Blasio’s Fairness PAC paid $13,445 for the ads last week. Some are still running. And then there was the revelation that a pollster was apparently reaching out to Iowa voters with message-testing questions about a guy named  “Didliaso” or something.

Teaching voters how to pronounce and spell his name will certainly be an early challenge. Then there are others, like New York’s tough tabloids continuing to hit him for fundraising practices that led to state and federal investigations, which did not result in charges back in 2017.

But the mayor was early to the income-inequality conversation and seems to see a lane to at least raise ideas. Presidential runs can be name-recognition boosters for Coloradans or New Yorkers. Maybe by the time he decides, he’ll still be among the first 30.

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano