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With Three Session Days Left, N.Y. Lawmakers Talking About Heroin Crisis, Ethics Reforms

Mike Groll

There are only three more days left in New York’s legislative session, and lawmakers are talking with Governor Cuomo about a number of bills, but keeping details close to the vest.

Following a private meeting with Cuomo, legislative leaders were reluctant to divulge any details of their talks.

This back and forth between Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and reporters is typical of the answers that legislative leaders commonly provide.

“We may be close on a couple of things,” Heastie said. “We’re still talking about everything.”

Heastie was asked what issues specifically the leaders and governor were close on.

“Breast cancer, heroin, among other things we’re closest on,” Heastie said. “But we haven’t closed anything down.”

The Speaker was then asked if there was anything in particular that had resulted in progress on talks to address the state’s heroin crisis, or on Governor Cuomo’s push to make breast cancer screening and treatment more accessible.

“No,” the Speaker said. Heastie then said he needed to hurry to inform his own Democratic members in a closed door party conference before publicly discussing any details.

Part of the reason for the reticence among the legislative leaders is that traditionally, issues in Albany are not decided one at a time, but at the end of session deals are forged that link numerous seemingly unrelated issues together.

Governor Cuomo’s task force on the heroin and opioid crisis issued its report, with one week to go before the session is due to end. It comes as the state comptroller reports record deaths in 2014 from heroin overdoses. It recommends, among other things, requiring insurance companies to pay for inpatient treatment as long as a doctor determines it is needed, instead of placing limits on the length of stay in a detox center. It also advises ending roadblocks put up by insurers that can sometimes lead to a wait of several days before an addicted person is allowed to start treatment. The report also calls for more treatment beds and limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days instead of 30 days. Health care providers would undergo additional mandatory training on prescribing the drugs.  ?

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-2) says while he and other senators want very much to address the addiction epidemic, he says increasing costs to health insurers, which might raise premiums, is a concern.

“Anytime we discuss anything involving health care, we would be ignoring our responsibilities if we didn’t look at costs,” said Flanagan, who said Senate Republicans do want people to access treatment as quickly as possible, without delays or denials from insurance companies.  

Among other end of session issues, a bill to legalize daily fantasy sports, reclassifying them as games of skill, not chance, is likely to pass. The fate of a measure to let ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft operate outside of New York City is uncertain. Despite extensive lobbying by Uber, there’s been push back from taxi drivers.

And lawmakers still differ on extension of New York City’s mayoral control law. Senate Republicans, who have a poor relationship with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, want just a one-year extension, with additional oversights controlled by the governor’s office. Governor Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor a three-year extension with no additional oversights.

Ethics reform is being discussed, but in a year where both former leaders of the legislature have been sentenced to prison, and ongoing state and federal investigations of the governor’s economic development programs, it’s unclear what will ultimately be agreed upon.  

Cuomo released bills to close the loophole that allows donors to skirt campaign contribution limits by setting up limited liability companies, but those bills were rejected by the Senate.

The governor, with a little over a week left in the session, announced a plan to crack down on Super PACS, to enforce rules that require they operate independently from candidates. Both houses of the legislature reacted positively. Statewide campaigns rely very little on Super PACs for funding, so legislators would not suffer a financial loss if the independent expenditure committees were more tightly regulated.

The governor did not comment after the leaders’ meeting, but earlier in the day, at an appearance in Niagara Falls, he downplayed expectations. The governor already scrapped ethics reform proposals from the state budget, because he said at the time that lawmakers would not enact them. Cuomo admits he’s not having much more luck convincing the Senate and Assembly to agree to ethics reform in the final days of the session.

“They don’t want to pass it,” said Cuomo. “They have not wanted to pass it for years. They’ve said that 18 different ways.”

The governor is also pushing for a new law to cancel pensions for lawmakers convicted of a felony. Both former leaders of the legislature are eligible to collect state pensions for the rest of their lives.

Lawmakers are taking Monday off and not returning until Tuesday. And so far, they do all agree on one thing—they will consider no further business after June 16.

“We’re leaving on Thursday,” said Speaker Heastie.

“We all agree on that,” said Independent Democratic Conference Leader, Senator Jeff Klein (D-34), with a chuckle.

“There is agreement on that,” Senator Flanagan concurred, to more laughter.

But Cuomo says there’s still plenty of time left between now and June 16. The end of session date is arbitrary. In past years lawmakers stayed longer and even regularly came back in the fall to finish up business or address new issues.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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