Tuesday, June 25, 2013

End of Session Wrap-Up

Advocates and capitol insiders have characterized the 2013 legislative session as 'the session of scandal' or 'Seinfeld lite, much ado about nothing.’ For the League’s legislative agenda it was profoundly disappointing.  As the League's legislative director I have been through sessions where we knew our issues would be a heavy lift – especially in the areas of government reform, whether it was budget reform or voting reform, ethics reform or openness in government – but after three decades of walking the capitol, I really thought we had finally evolved when it came to equality for women. 

Where things stand:

Women’s Equality Act –
As you know by now, The Assembly passed the entire 10 point Women’s Equality Act on Thursday, June 20.  On Friday, June 21, Senator Klein introduced a hostile amendment (the language of the WEA, codifying Roe v. Wade into law) to a bill about medical records.  After a debate about abortion, all Republican Senators and two Democrats voted that the amendment was not germane to the bill.  This procedural vote, by a show of hands, will serve as a record of where the Senators stand on reproductive choice.
After that maneuver, the remaining nine points of the Women’s Equality Act were each introduced as separate bills, debated, and passed (all but one, unanimously). The Assembly refused to consider the separate bills before adjourning on Friday evening.
This leaves us with no law because there is no “same as” bill in either house.  The Assembly could come back some time during this legislative session and pass the same nine points that the Senate did, and I hope that they will. 
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's the League strongly opposed legislation that would roll back reproductive health in NY and we were mostly successful.  So updating New York's law to codify Roe v Wade was not unimaginable.  Boy was I wrong!  It would appear that the Conservative Party with their stranglehold over the Republican Party superseded many Senators need to call themselves pro-choice.  In the Assembly the need to protect Speaker Silver and legislative egos got in the way of making every day women’s' lives better.  In the end New York did not pass any of the Women's Equality Agenda, except for one provision on human trafficking, which extends to 17 from 15 the age at which judges can offer counseling instead of jail time to minors facing prostitution charges.  On a slightly more positive note the League did get much visibility throughout the session on the Women's Equality Agenda traveling to Seneca Falls to introduce the Governor, speaking out on media outlets and at rallies.  

I had hoped that the extraordinary efforts we all put into trying to pass WEA would make us successful, and that we could cross these items off our “to – do” list.  But instead it is time to just take a breather, recoup our energies, and be persistent.
Campaign Finance Reform -

Despite the introduction of three major campaign reform bills (Speaker Silver’s, Governor Cuomo’s program bill, and the IDC’s) and a great deal of public support, yet another session went by without passage of a comprehensive campaign reform bill.  Once again New York State’s leaders missed the opportunity to stem the tide of corruption in Albany and give New Yorkers the transparent, responsive, and ethical state government they deserve.  Reform on this front has, of course, always been a heavy lift in Albany – this is an issue that affects legislators’ election and reelection, and they almost always opt for the status quo. 
While the Assembly passed Speaker Silver’s Fair Election bill back in May, comprehensive campaign finance reform bills were blocked from coming to the floor for a vote in the Senate.  Late last Thursday night, Senate Democrats introduced the Fair Elections bill as a hostile amendment to another bill.  However, the amendment was ruled non-germane – the vote on its germaneness failed to gain enough votes to pass.

We will continue to advocate vigorously until comprehensive campaign finance reform becomes a reality in New York.  Going into the summer, we now look to see what comes of the governor’s Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in Albany. 

Voting Rights –

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act and a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote stood very little chance of passing because the Senate majority likes the way they are elected (i.e. the status quo).  Thus, the bills did not pass this session and next year, an election year, these bills will again stand little chance….Unless, of course, there is a change in how the Senate coalition works (or doesn’t work). 

Hydrofracking –

Although there was much vigorous lobbying by our members and environmental advocacy groups on A.1046/S.674, the bill, which would have required fracking waste to be treated as the hazardous waste it is, died in the Senate Rules Committee (the legislative graveyard).  At the end of session, all bills end up in Rules, which is controlled by leadership and decides what does and does not come to a floor vote.  Like so many other bills this session, A.1046/S.674 was denied a vote on the floor.
Education -

The League did have one victory, an "under the radar" bill that came up very late the last few days of session.  This was legislation that would constitute a burdensome unfunded mandate for school districts by requiring for expensive private special education school placements and services, regardless of whether the placement, program or services made available by the district are appropriate – and regardless of whether the placement, program and services offered by the district are better than those preferred by the student’s parents – so long as the private program/placement preferred by the parent is also appropriate.  We were able, along with many education advocates (including NYSUT, NYS Council of School Superintendents, NYS NAACP, NY Civil Liberties Union, the UFT, School Administrators Association of NYS, NYS School Boards, Big 5 School Districts and NYC DOE) to hold it back in the Assembly after it had passed the Senate (Click here to watch the Senate debate on the bill).

This is a very dangerous bill that would be an "unfunded mandate'" on public school districts.  With the help of Assemblymember Pat Fahey and the upstate Assembly Republicans, we were able to run out the legislative clock.  Late Friday night too many Assembly Democrats had left the capitol and the session ended without addressing this bad bill.  It is sad that our one accomplishment was killing a bad bill and not putting forward any reform legislation.

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