ALBANY - More so than in any recent year, state legislators drove the homestretch of the 2014 legislative session.
From medical marijuana to anti-heroin measures to teacher-evaluation adjustments, the high-profile issues that dominated the last week of business at the State Capitol originated in the Senate and Assembly.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to be sure, put his stamp on each of those issues by negotiating concessions from lawmakers, especially on medical marijuana. But the push for the changes made at the close came from the rank and file.
Cuomo, a Democrat who faces Republican Rob Astorino in the November election, won most of his major items for the year when lawmakers adopted the state’s 2014-15 budget on March 31. This included a property tax rebate for homeowners whose municipalities and school districts stay within the state’s 2 percent property-tax cap. The budget also contained an array of business tax cuts he favored.
Further, Cuomo scored his highest profile wins during the first three years of his term. Some came at the close of previous sessions, such as same-sex marriage, the property tax cap and his tax-free SUNY plan.
So it was noticeable that lawmakers set the agenda this time. Both the Senate and Assembly had hearings about the rising heroin problem, which led to the 11-bill package lawmakers approved this year.
Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) had sponsored a medical marijuana bill for 18 years. The issue got traction when other states began loosening marijuana laws and when Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) began lining up Senate votes in 2013.
Cuomo installed the new teacher evaluation system in 2012, but legislators successfully worked this year to tweak it for students and teachers.
DELICATE DANCE. The carefully worded promise of Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) to reunite his breakaway Democratic faction with mainline Democrats “after the November elections” has some lawmakers wondering if a special postelection session is in the works.
Some see this potential scenario: Lawmakers return to Albany and approve measures Klein favors, helping him deliver on a “progressive” agenda Democrats want. Then in January, when the new legislative session begins, Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference could restart their partnership with Senate Republicans to run the chamber.