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Pressure mounts with 11 days left in state legislative session


With 11 working days left in the legislative session, the atmosphere is intensifying at the State Capitol. Democrats who lead the Legislature are facing pressure from all sides to deliver on legislation that they campaigned on. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the week with a news conference about measures focusing on four women’s issues that he said must be done before the session ends.

The governor is seeking passage of an Equal Rights Amendment in the state’s constitution, strengthening the state’s anti-sexual harassment protections, and extending the state’s statute of limitations for reporting rape crimes, which is among the shortest time limit in the nation. And the governor wants to mandate that women in New York receive equal pay for equal work.

The measures are even more important, he said, now that the federal government, led by President Donald Trump, is moving to take away women’s rights.

"It’s vitally important that we make progress," Cuomo said. 

Spokespersons for the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly say they do not oppose any of the bills. But Cuomo said he wouldn’t be assured of the legislators’ support until they actually vote on the measures. And the governor, who has had an antagonistic relationship at times with the left of his party, said lawmakers who say they are progressive cannot claim that title unless they act on the measures.

"Progressive is not a lapel pin," said Cuomo. "You want to be a progressive? Achieve progressive results."

At the news conference, Cuomo confirmed that one item pushed by progressive groups -- the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use -- is not likely to happen this session.

Both the governor and the Senate sponsor of the bill say the Senate does not currently have the votes to pass it. Cuomo, who has intervened with lawmakers in the past to get key items like gay marriage and gun control approved, said he does not think his influence would help much this time.

"I don’t think it is feasible at this point," Cuomo said. "I don’t think it matters how much I push."

Despite that, Cuomo said cannabis legalization remains one of his 10 top priorities for the end of the session.

Those remarks angered pro-legalization groups, who said they are looking for leadership in state government.

Stanley Fritz with Citizen Action said he’s "disappointed."

"The governor said at the beginning of the session that he had a 100-day plan for marijuana legalization. Well, we’re past 100 days," Fritz said. "You can’t just say you’re going to do that and then decide to fall off because the wind blew left today."

Kassandra Frederique with the Drug Policy Alliance said the governor is not the only one at fault. She said Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly haven’t done enough, either.

"The issues that we are putting to the forefront right now are not a suggestion, they are a demand from our communities," Frederique said. "We have waited a very long time for this progressive blue wave, and we expect results." 

The groups said they plan several days of intense lobbying at the Capitol between now and the end of session. They also want New York City’s rent laws renewed, strengthened and expanded to other parts of the state; an end to solitary confinement in the state’s prisons; and action to combat climate change.

Another measure on Cuomo’s top 10 list is permitting undocumented immigrants to be granted driver’s licenses, which also faces an uncertain future.

On Monday, the state’s association of county clerks voted to formally oppose the legislation. The county clerks would be the officials who would issue the licenses through the local department of motor vehicle offices.

Judith Hunter, the association’s president, said in a statement that the offices don’t have the staff to handle the estimated 200,000 new driver’s license applications. She said the employees are also not equipped to verify any foreign passports or other documents that are required to obtain the licenses.

During a visit to the Capitol, Erie County Republican Chair Nick Langworthy, who is scheduled to be elected the state GOP chair in July, called the driver’s license measure "reckless."

"You are incentivizing law-breaking," said Langworthy, who predicted it would make New York "a haven for people who are coming here illegally."

Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Cuomo, in a statement called Langworthy’s comments "fearmongering" and said the proposal would put New York "in line" with 12 other states and make our roads safer.

Meanwhile, the measure earned some new support, from the health care workers union SEIU 1199. The group said as frontline caregivers, they see firsthand "the consequences of delayed medical care after an accident, due to a lack of documentation."

The session is due to end June 19.

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.