Friday, January 15, 2016

This legislative session got off to an unusual start. The Governor has apparently decided he likes giving his State of the State and budget messages together. The State of the State message was exactly a week later than usual; the interesting aspect of this is that the legislative session actually had already started on Monday the week before . What is significant about the delayed State of the State was that one of our top priorities for opposition, the Education Investment Tax Credit (ETC) came out of Rules Committee in the Senate without ever having gone through a Tax or Education Committee. Within 20 minutes it was on the floor and passed. So much for public input or thoughtful deliberation. The League was in the gallery for the debate. Fifteen senate democrats who voted against it, up from last year’s opposition. Similar to last session, it appears  this will be a top priority for the senate republicans going into budget negotiations with the Governor. For a full breakdown of how our Senators voted can be found here

Wednesday was the real beginning of school in legislative lingo; it was when legislators and lobbyists all gather for the day for the State of the State and the many receptions happening that day. It’s like getting dressed up for the first day of school and it’s always fun to see everyone after they’ve been away from Albany for 6 months. The League’s day started early with a reception hosted by NOW New York and attended by many female legislators. It was a perfect opportunity for Jennifer, our new Policy Director, to meet many of the legislators we will work with this session. We stopped by Assembly Speakers Heastie’s reception and spoke briefly with our legislative friends on the Elections Committee. It was then onto the State of the State in the Convention Center, but first we had to go through the now normal screams and shouts from many protesters who now line the Concourse, hoping to be heard by legislators on their way to the State of the State. The Convention Center was crowded and not as cold as it was last year.

Governor Cuomo had just been introduced and had begun his message when there was shouting from the floor of the Convention Center where legislators are seated. I did not even have to stand up to look to see  who it was; I knew it would be Assemblyman Charles Barron. Mr. Barron has had a lengthy acrimonious relationship with the Governor and is very outspoken about children in poverty and their inability to receive a sound basic education. Because he is a legislator, the state police were reluctant to escort him out of the Convention Center,  so he and Mr. Cuomo shouted at one another. Finally, Majority Leader Joe Morelle (Rochester) came to the rescue and with some gentle nudging escorted Mr. Barron out of the Convention Center. This was not before there were loud boos among the audience. It would appear the Governor won that round.

As is quite normal with the Governor, his package of ethics reforms was placed at the end of his message.  This year the Governor also finished his address with a passionate and very genuine plea for a 12-week paid family leave. He used this opportunity to talk about the death of his father in a way not often heard by this Governor in major addresses. He then went on to talk about his longtime companion, Sandra Lee, and her battle with breast cancer. On everyone’s seat was a lapel pin with a pink ribbon signifying the battle against breast cancer. It ignited a standing ovation for Sandra Lee and gave the Governor the opportunity to ask for an expansion in breast cancer prevention measures.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying one reception after the other, including Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousin’s reception, the Comptroller’s reception, and the Republican Majority Leader’s reception. Dessert is always served at the final reception at the Attorney General’s Office. Of course all that fun now shifts quickly into  hard work as the budget testimony begins and the beat goes on.

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