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Legislative session could end with a whimper

The legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday, and many issues remain unresolved. But a low key end of session might not matter much to New York’s top political figures.

The chances of passage for several key issues promoted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, including a Women’s Equality Act and public campaign finance appear dim, due to opposition from Senate Republicans.

The end of session gridlock has grown worse after Cuomo pledged to the left leaning Working Families Party that he would work to end the GOP’s partial control in the Senate and replace them with Democrats.

“We must win a majority of the seats in the Senate,”’ Cuomo pledged on May 31st.

Cuomo has also said he wants to put aside politics for now and try to work with the present Senate leadership.

Senate Republicans are striking back with accusations of their own. Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos is blaming Democrats in the Assembly for the hold up of package of bills aimed at combatting the growing heroin epidemic.

“We came out with an excellent package,” said Skelos, who said Assembly Democrats are balking at provisions that would increase criminal penalties of possession and selling of the drug.

“They should not unilaterally rule out any of the criminal enhancements,” Skelos said.

Following a closed door meeting with legislative leaders later in the day, the Senate Republican Leader expressed more hope that an agreement on package could ultimately be reached.

One of the measures still being actively considered in the final days of the session is legalizing medical marijuana. But the status of the talks was in question after the Senate sponsor, Senator Diane Savino, became angry over what she said were leaks by the Cuomo Administration to the New York Daily News over bill negotiations.

“I was quite surprised,” Savino said. .

Savino says many of the modifications proposed by Cuomo and his aids, like limiting the medical marijuana program to five years, and five dispensaries, are “non-starters”, and she called some last minute objections to proscribing the drug in a smokeable form “disingenuous”.

“To suggest that we haven’t approached this in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner is somewhat ridiculous,” Savino said.

Senator Savino is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that rules the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans.

Governor Cuomo has said that the independent democrats should rejoin the rest of the Democrats in the Senate.  

Senator Skelos, following a closed door meeting with legislative leaders and the governor, left open the possibility that medical marijuana could be voted on this week.

“I’m not ruling it out, I’m not ruling in in,” Skelos said. “Never say never.”

A new poll shows that even if the legislature leaves Albany for the summer without any major accomplishments, Governor Cuomo likely does not have much to worry about in his re-election bid. The Siena poll finds Cuomo is 36 points ahead of his nearest opponent, Republican Rob Astorino, says spokesman Steve Greenberg.

“Executives have an advantage, they have the bully pulpit,” said Greenberg. “If things that the governor wants don’t happen, he blames the legislature heading into the election.”

Cuomo has already promised to take any unfinished issues into the fall campaigns.

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.
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