Could the state Legislature return for a summer session?

Jul 19, 2018

Less than a month after the legislative session officially ended, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been calling for the state Senate to come back and work on what he says is unfinished business.

Cuomo said the Senate, which is led by a Republican coalition, needs to come back and vote on a measure that would codify the rights in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into law. The 1973 case legalized abortion nationwide, but the governor believes the ruling is in danger of being overturned now that President Donald Trump has picked Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the Supreme Court.

Thirty-one Democrats in the Senate say they’d vote for the law. One Republican vote is needed for the measure to pass.

Cuomo has been holding campaign-style rallies around the state, comparing the situation to that of 1970, when several Republicans sided with Democrats to decriminalize abortion in New York.

"Go back to Albany and vote on the bill as a matter of conscience," Cuomo said to applause on July 13. "Let the people of this state know where you stand."

Cuomo’s political opponents, including his primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, say the governor’s had eight years to pass the measure, known as the Reproductive Health Act, and they question why he’s waited to press the bill. Cuomo said he’s been unsuccessful in the past in convincing Republicans to put the measure on the floor for a vote.

Cuomo said the Senate also needs to come back to renew 140 speed cameras near schools in New York City. Without action, the authorization for the cameras expires in a few days.

"You must pass the speed camera bill," Cuomo said. "We’re not going to take no for an answer."

A Senate GOP spokeswoman, Candice Giove, said senators don’t like the bill as written and want to make changes. They object to a provision that allows nondoctors to perform abortions. Pro-choice advocates, including Planned Parenthood, say the bill does not go further than the rights already defined in Roe.

Assembly Democrats already have passed both measures. Speaker Carl Heastie, who was in the Hudson Valley visiting Olana, the historical home of 19th-century painter Frederick Church, said he’d also like the Senate to come back and approve the bills that his house already voted on.

He said the Reproductive Health Act does not need to be amended.

"Women’s health is not something I am interested in negotiating," Heastie said. "Either you support a woman’s right to choose or you don’t."

Meanwhile, in May, Senate Republicans approved a bill on ethics reform in reaction to two corruption trials this year involving former Cuomo associates. Cuomo’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco, was convicted of bribery, while the former head of the governor’s economic development program was found guilty of bid-rigging. Three upstate developers also were found guilty of corruption charges.

The measures would increase transparency in economic development projects by making a public database of all of the contracts the state has with developers. The other would reinstate the state comptroller’s oversight over the contracts.

Heastie said the Assembly won’t come back to approve those measures, though, until there’s agreement from Cuomo on them. He said the rules would affect state agencies that Cuomo oversees, so the governor needs to have some input on the legislation.

He also questioned whether any law could stop people from committing crimes.

"It’s about transparency and confidence," Heastie said. "I’m still waiting to see if we can come up with the first bill on people’s morality. When people are doing the wrong thing, they know it’s the wrong thing and they just hope they can get away with it."

Heastie also said he thinks the current system is working because those who violated the law are being "brought to justice."

The governor has backed an alternative plan that included a new inspector general under his power to root out corruption. But he has said that he already overhauled the bidding system within his administration to prevent further corruption.

A spokesman for the state Senate, Scott Reif, said there are no plans at this time to return to the Capitol for a summer session.