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Final week of session begins with issues unsettled

Marco Varisco

The New York State Legislature is approaching its final week of the 2017 session, and agreements on outstanding issues, including mayoral control over the state’s largest school system, remain elusive. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he is not optimistic an agreement will be reached.

Three separate measures permitting the mayor of New York City to control the city’s public schools were approved in the Senate, extending the program one, two and five years.

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan and his GOP members have not had a warm relationship with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio since the mayor tried to get Democrats elected to the state Senate in 2014. But Flanagan, during debate on the Senate floor on June 13, said he does not oppose the concept of mayoral control.

“I believe that the mayor should ultimately be responsible for the good parts and whatever negative parts there might be,” Flanagan said.

The Republican senators were strong supporters of mayoral control when Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Republican, was in charge of the city.

But the three Senate bills all contain what may prove a poison pill for the state Assembly. All include provisions to strengthen charter schools, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the measures are not going anywhere in his house.

“God bless them, we’re not doing them,” Heastie said. “Next question.”

Assembly Democrats have linked mayoral control to the extension of sales taxes for counties upstate and on Long Island.

Cuomo, who has been largely absent from the Capitol lately, weighed in on mayoral control during an interview on the cable news channel NY1. He said he favors a three-year extension, but sided with the Senate, saying charter schools need to be addressed in the same measure, saying they are “here to stay in New York” and are “making a contribution.”

Cuomo said that in recent years, priority policy issues are resolved as part of the state budget deal, and issues that don’t make it into the budget usually fall out for a reason.

“Look, it’s a bad sign when an issue isn’t done in the budget,” Cuomo said. “Because it means it’s either not a priority or people think compromise isn’t feasible.”

Cuomo also has had a poor relationship with the New York City mayor.

A spokesman for the Assembly, after hearing the governor’s remarks, said only that the Assembly Democrats are “fine” with their version of the bill.

Meanwhile, victims of childhood sexual abuse were heartened by progress on a bill to allow more adults to seek legal redress for crimes that were committed against them as children.

Under current law, the statute of limitations runs out at age 23. Cuomo introduced a program bill in the final days of the session that mirrors a measure passed nearly unanimously in the state Assembly, with only seven dissenting votes.

It raises the statute of limitations to age 28 for criminal action, and up to age 50 for civil action. It also includes a one-year window where survivors of childhood sexual abuse of any age can pursue their cases.

Bridie Farrell, who was molested by her speed skating coach as a teenager, said age 23 is too young for many people to realize that a crime has been committed against them. She said she first realized she was a victim at the age of 26, while studying at Cornell University after retiring from skating.

“It is impossible to ask people to come forward by age 23,” Farrell said.

But Cuomo said Friday he does not believe the legislature will be able to reach an agreement on this issue, either.

But there are other outstanding issues, as well. New York may install the first openly gay judge on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. The governor nominated Paul Feinman, an appellate court judge and LGBT rights advocate, to replace Sheila Abdus-Salaam, who died in April.

Another issue much discussed during the session is the reform of the state’s economic development contracting process after a scandal in the governor’s office. Nine former associates of Cuomo have been charged with crimes ranging from bribery to bid-rigging, and trials begin as early as the fall.

But so far, there’s no sign of an agreement to put the reform measures on the floor of either house for a vote before the session is scheduled to end on June 21.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.