Good afternoon and welcome to The Point! Today we’re impressed with the decision of Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling assault-style rifles in stores. Look for our editorial later on what it could mean for D.C. politics.
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Drama on NYS Senate floor Wednesday
New York State Senate Democrats, in an unusually unified move for this fractious conference, tried to force a hostile amendment onto the floor Wednesday to get the full chamber to consider a package of four gun-control bills.
Republicans rejected the motion unanimously, which was at least part of the Democrats’ goal: to paint GOP senators as anti-gun control ahead of the November elections. Republican incumbents, especially those upstate, fear primary challenges from gun advocates if they were to support the bills, an outcome that would delight Democrats seeking to snatch back control of the chamber.
“A lot of Republicans will talk about how there are moderates among them, but this shows otherwise,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky told The Point after the vote.
Mainline Democrats, along with the Independent Democratic Conference, pushed for a motion to consider four bills. After learning that people close to Nikolas Cruz, the Florida school shooter, repeatedly tried to alert police and the FBI, New York Democrats were most adamant about creating an “extreme risk protection order.” It would allow authorities to take away the weapons of someone who shows signs of danger. At least three states have such so-called red-flag statutes.
The other bills would have banned bump stocks, created a gun violence research institute and extended the background-check waiting period to 10 days. A background-check flaw allowed a gun purchase by Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a South Carolina church in June 2015.
Meanwhile, more restrictive gun measures are moving with lightning speed in the GOP-controlled Florida State Legislature. Gov. Rick Scott, normally a National Rifle Association poster boy, called for a law raising the minimum age to buy assault rifles to 21. That would bring the state law for semi-automatic rifles in line with that for buying handguns from a licensed dealer, which demands purchasers be 21.
In Congress, a federal bill to raise the age has murkier prospects. But the issue raises the question of what the age restriction is for buying semi-automatic rifles in New York, where the gun laws are among the strictest in the nation.
In New York, 18 is old enough to buy semi-automatic weapons, according to a summary of state laws compiled by the Giffords Law Center, and 16-year-olds can legally possess long guns. Only Hawaii and Illinois bar the purchase of long guns by buyers ages 18 through 20.
So far, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who considers the 2013 SAFE Act one of his biggest achievements, has voiced support for the extreme risk concept but has been silent on whether he will seek to raise the purchase age in New York.
Anne Michaud, Lane Filler and Rita Ciolli
Slice of the ride-hailing cake
A way to help Suffolk County’s chronically underfunded bus system is emerging in Albany, and it involves the same revenue stream being eyed by county lawmakers.
Suffolk’s legislature is considering a controversial six-month moratorium on ride-hailing operations like Uber and Lyft to try to pressure the state to turn over part of its 4 percent surcharge on rides outside of New York City.
Meanwhile in Albany, lawmakers are talking about dealing with the issue statewide as part of budget negotiations. “This thing with Uber is going to happen as part of the budget process, and probably going to happen as part of whatever comes up with the MTA,” Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) told The Point.
Thiele said the surcharge could be raised to something in the vicinity of 8 percent with “some of the money coming back, whether to help the MTA or non-MTA buses.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was in Albany Tuesday, as was Suffolk Legis. Bridget Fleming, who is sponsoring the moratorium measure, for discussions with state lawmakers, and funding county buses was on the agenda.
The effort is separate from state legislation proposed by Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb. Christine Pellegrino (D-West Islip) to direct the entire existing 4 percent surcharge to local transit operations while also blocking local governments from using it to reduce their payments to those systems.
The state budget is due by March 31. Will Suffolk’s buses be part of the sausage?
’Tis the season
A teaching moment in D.C.
As union leaders anxiously await a Supreme Court decision that has the potential to hollow out public-employee union funding, Richard Haase, president of the Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association, went to Washington Monday to join hundreds of other protesters as the court heard oral arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME.
The case challenges the ability of unions to charge fees or dues from workers who benefit from contracts they negotiate. A 1977 Supreme Court ruling allowed workers in a union shop to reduce dues payments by opting out of political advocacy activities while still supporting collective bargaining and contract work.
Haase told The Point that not one of the 1,200 people in his Half Hollow Hills union has chosen this option. It requires a bit of knowledge, paperwork and adherence to deadlines, which Albany legislators who support organized labor are working to make even more cumbersome.
However, if the Supreme Court agrees with Mark Janus of Illinois, who objects to a state law that requires him to pay dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state workers, there is a concern that financial support for unions will drop.
In New York, the dues can amount to about $1,000 a year for professionals like teachers. Haase’s local also represents school psychologists, paraprofessionals, librarians and others.
Haase is somewhat worried. “I want to believe that if there are any [who opt out of paying dues], it will be very, very few,” he said. “We work very hard for all of our members.”