Thursday, January 24, 2013

Budget Season Begins, But First Let’s Talk Redistricting
On Wednesday, the Senate voted on the second passage of the constitutional amendment on redistricting, with 43 senators voting in favor of the amendment and 20 opposed.  Debate on the amendment included a heated exchange between Senator Krueger and Senator Defranciso concerning whether Democrats had faired any better than have Republicans in creating fair redistricting lines – an exchange which highlighted that, as Senator Defranciso noted, “you can’t take politics out of politics” and that fair redistricting won’t happen in 2022 without independent oversight of the politically charged process.  Senator Gianaris of the mainstream Democrats debated in opposition of the amendment, having a lengthy dialogue with Senator Nozzolio, who was speaking in favor of the amendment for the Republicans.  No member of the IDC spoke during the debate, but all 5 members voted in favor of the amendment, as did 13 Democrats and all Senate Republicans.  Having long fought for a change to the current ineffective and unfair redistricting process, the League supports this amendment and believes that it is the best chance for permanent structural reform for decades to come.
This week also saw the release of Governor Cuomo’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget proposal.   Overall, while the governor has indicated a progressive social agenda this session, his proposed budget points to a continuation of a more conservative fiscal agenda.  Over the next 6 weeks, the legislature will begin debating legislative priorities and how they fit into the proposed budget.
Budget hearings begin next week and can be viewed live on both the senate and assembly websites.  The League will be testifying at Tuesday’s education hearings – our education finance specialist, Marion Bott, has been very busy in our offices this week preparing testimony.  While the governor’s budget calls for a 4% increase in education funding, many school districts are still dealing with budget cuts of years past.  The League will also be testifying and/or submitting testimony on the Board of Elections during the public protection hearings and on healthcare and transportation.  Of note, the state budget does not include funding to increase staffing at the State Board of Elections or for a publicly funded campaign finance system.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Day of Session

The first day of the 2013 legislative session was like none I have experienced in decades. It started with pink in early morning and ended with guns after midnight.

Women’s Equity
Monday was Family Planning Advocates’ (FPA) lobby day.  There was a sea of pink in the well of the LOB as men and women, all wearing vivid pink scarfs or ties, gathered to rally support for the Reproductive Health Act (RHA).  This year, however, there was a twist.  Following Governor Cuomo's State of the State address announcing the Women's Equity Act – which includes the RHA – FPA displayed signs that read "Women's Equity" Act.  This new initiative includes ten issues which, when taken together, will enhance women's economic, safety and reproductive health.

Back in the well of the LOB, the Lieutenant Governor attended and spoke on the initiative for the Governor. Speaker Silver followed, with a pink scarf draped around his shoulder like a shawl, and spoke eloquently about pay equity and the RHA.  He was surrounded by scores of Assemblymembers.  Several Democratic Senators also spoke including Jeff Klein, the new co-leader of the Majority Coalition in the Senate.  For the rest of Monday, pink scarfed men and women weaved their way through the halls of the LOB and the Capitol.

Gun Control

For weeks after the tragedy at Newtown, CT, Governor Cuomo had been negotiating a package of strong gun control measures with legislative leaders.  The deal between the new Majority Coalition Conference in the Senate and the Assembly leadership was sealed at about 4:00 PM on Monday afternoon.  Once the bill was printed the Senate began debate at about 10:30 PM, with several Dems speaking in support – including Senator Jeff Klein, the Senate Co-leader.  Only two Republicans spoke, including Senator Ball who condemned the bill as a crass political move by the Governor to run for President.  The Senate passed the bill 43 to 18 shortly after midnight.

Speaker Silver scheduled his chamber’s debate for 10:00 AM Tuesday to give the Assembly Minority time to conference the bill.  After a five hour debate where every Republican and several Democratic Assemblymembers spoke, the bill passed by a vote of 104 to 43.  It had been 13 years since the Legislature had addressed gun control.  This has to be seen as a major success for Governor Cuomo as he begins this new session.  It is also a success for the League as we have had a position on strong gun control since 1990, although with respect to process we agree with our good government colleagues and the editorial board of the New York Time that pushing this complex bill through using a message of necessity did not allow for appropriate public discussion and a transparent legislative process.