Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reforms fizzle out in Albany

By Adam Wisnieski

This year’s legislative session started with a bang and ended with a whimper.

Days into the session in January, state legislators passed a gun control package that gained nationwide recognition as the first major changes to arms laws following the Newtown, Conn. tragedy. But legislators were not as quick to act following a series of scandals, including the arrest of two sitting legislators on corruption charges, the resignation of another on a perjury charge and a sexual abuse scandal and coverup. 

Following the arrests and resignation in April, lawmakers introduced a series of anti-corruption proposals and major reforms to the state’s campaign finance system. When legislators left Albany on Saturday, none of the legislation had made its way through both houses.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it a priority to pass campaign finance reform, the Public Trust Act and a 10-point package of bills to strengthen women’s rights. Nine of the women’s rights bills passed the Senate, but not one that would have brought New York state’s laws up to par with federal abortion rights. The bill would ensure that abortion would still be legal in New York if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned. 

The entire women’s agenda eventually failed. The Assembly would not break it up into separate bills, instead passing the entire package.

Two local legislators forced votes on the hot issues. 

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents half of Kingsbridge, added campaign finance reform legislation, including a public financing system, to a bill that will require New York City to use the old lever machines for this year’s mayoral primary and possible runoff. The amendment failed when three Democratic senators — state Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr., Malcolm Smith and Simcha Felder — joined Republicans to vote down the amendment.

State Sen. Jeff Klein, who represents Riverdale and half of Kingsbridge, added the abortion bill as an amendment to a bill pertaining to medical records. The hostile amendment was voted on and both Mr. Diaz and Mr. Felder voted with Republicans to vote it down.

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