New York lawmakers return to Albany to begin the final weeks of their work for 2016, confronting a to-do list that includes a possible upstate expansion for Uber, a decision on control of public schools in New York City and the challenge of addressing Albany’s perennial corruption problem.
Over the course of seven weeks, the Senate and Assembly will take up hundreds of bills with an eye on the fall elections. Here’s a look at the top issues they will face:
CORRUPTIONIn the last year, Albany’s two most powerful lawmakers were convicted on federal corruption charges, joining more than 30 other lawmakers who left office facing criminal or ethical allegations. But even after the downfall of former GOP Senate Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, lawmakers have been slow to respond.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed tighter campaign finance rules and restrictions on how much lawmakers can make from side jobs. Those ideas face opposition in the Senate, however.
One idea with broader support is a ballot referendum that, if approved by voters, would allow a judge to strip the pensions of convicted lawmakers. A 2011 pension forfeiture law doesn’t apply to lawmakers elected before that bill was passed, meaning that many lawmakers can keep their pensions even if convicted of corruption. So far, the Assembly and Senate cannot agree on wording for the referendum.
“Ethics is going to be the main focus between now and June,” Cuomo told a group of upstate editorial boards in April.
Government watchdog groups hope public outrage over the recent scandals will push lawmakers to act. Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who led the Assembly for decades, is set to be sentenced on Tuesday, the same day lawmakers reconvene.
“It’s an election year,” said Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Lawmakers are going to have to go back to their constituents and say `Yes, I voted for those legislative leaders that are now in the slammer.’ And they’re going to have to say what they did about it.”
NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLSNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, must once again persuade lawmakers to extend his control of city schools, a policy which is set to expire June 30 after lawmakers renewed it only a year in 2015.
Senate Republicans are skeptical about giving the city control over its own public education system, even though mayoral control was first authorized in 2002. Two hearings have been scheduled on extending it, and de Blasio is expected to face tough questions about his handling of education from his GOP critics.
“Without a detailed and thoughtful exchange, it is difficult to craft an extension that is in the best interests of New York City’s students and teachers,” said Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee.
UBER AND LYFTThe app-based ride-hailing services want lawmakers to pass regulations allowing them to expand operations into upstate cities such as Rochester and Buffalo, the latter being the largest U.S. city not served by Uber or Lyft. Currently the two companies are limited to the New York City area.
While many upstate mayors support the expansion, taxi companies are fighting it, saying Uber and Lyft shouldn’t be given special regulations when they aren’t subject to the same rules governing yellow cabs.
ELECTION REFORMHundreds of people complained of registration problems during the state’s recent presidential primary, prompting some lawmakers to propose changes to make it easier for voters to register, change their party affiliations or fill out a ballot.
“The time for good governance is now in order to make the electoral process better for everyone, including new Americans, senior citizens and new young voters,” said Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, a Brooklyn Democrat who has introduced two election-related bills.