Albany Convenes: What Can We Expect From the State Legislature and the Governor?

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session. Anonymous, 19th century.

The New York State legislature convened this week and the annual gubernatorial State of the State speech is slated for next week. This will be the first year in quite a while without major education battles hanging in the balance. Politics makes for strange bedfellows (and visa versa); last year’s enemies can become this year’s friends. Last year was a bruising year for education, the governor used the budget process to force through the legislature a host of highly controversial laws: yet another dense teacher evaluation law called the “matrix,” increased teacher probation from three to four years and a receivership plan that could result in the 140 lowest achieving schools handed over to a “receiver,” probably a not-for-profit with the power to change/amend collective bargaining agreements

In September the Governor appointed a Task Force to recommend changes in his own plans.

The final report of the Cuomo Commission (Read full report here), which was adopted by the Board of Regents, “froze” the teacher evaluation plans for four years and requires a deep review of the Common Core State Standards. The Governor was backing away from his harsh legislation passed in the spring.

Both sides of the aisle, the Democrats and the Republicans are committed to eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment; the State reduced funding to school districts during the first years after the 2008 near national default, it appears highly likely the “owed” dollars will be fully restored in this year’s budget.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit dollars were also frozen during the fiscal crisis and New York City will fight for the payment of the owed dollars.

The Democrats will fight for the NYS Dream Act which would make, with restrictions, non-documented high school graduates eligible for the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (Read description of the battle last year here)

Why all pleasantness?  Why are the Republicans, the Democrats and the Governor not sparring?

The answer: this is an election year, not only an election year but a presidential election year, not only a presidential election but an election with a popular Democrat, either Clinton or Sanders, and possibly a controversial Republican at the top of their ticket.

The Republicans are very concerned that a Democratic sweep in New York State will have coattails, will sweep along other Democrats on the ticket.

Over the years the April date for the presidential primary in New York State was not exciting, the winners were already chosen. This year the April 19th New York State primary may be key to either Clinton-Sanders or the leading Republicans. A number of other state elections have been scheduled for April 19th, including the Skelos seat – a heavy Democratic turnout could challenge the leadership of the Senate, currently held by the Republicans by a single seat.

The Democrats in the Assembly will also fill the two vacant seats on the Board of Regents. Merryl Tisch announced she will not be seeking another term (an at-large seat) and Anthony Bottar (Syracuse) apparently also will not be seeking another term. Regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature, with the overwhelming majority in the Assembly the selection is in the hands of the Speaker of the Assembly. Last year two long time incumbents were not re-appointed and the local legislators had significant input into the selection. Eight of the seventeen members of the Board will have been selected in the last two years.

The 2016 session opened January 6th with a welcoming speech by the Speaker who also laid out the broad priorities of the Democratic Conference (Read speech here)

The Assembly will meet two days a week in January and February and move to three days, to four to around the clock as the March 31 budget approaches. May and June will bring three day a week sessions with June 16th set as the end of the session. Tuesday is traditionally lobby day as the hordes descend on the Legislative Office Building to meet with their local electeds (or their staff). If you are going to trek to Albany make sure you have set up an appointment, the earlier in the day the better; members are called into session in the afternoon. You actually have more meaningful meetings in the member’s district office on a Friday.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 bills will be introduced, they all can be tracked on the Assembly website. The vast, vast, vast majority die, either for the lack of a Senate partner bill, or, the leadership chooses not to bring the bill to the floor; fewer than 500 Assembly bills will become law.

You can read a bio of your Assembly member here and read the bills they have introduced by clicking on “legislation” on their web page.

Politics can be frustrating, excuse me, is frustrating. What seems to clear to you might not be so clear to a legislator, who is juggling scores of bills. As you wait in the anteroom to meet with your legislator the group behind you might be waiting to advocate for the position opposite to your position. Are you a contributor?  A modest contribution goes a long way; it’s a sign of support, no matter how modest.

All politics are local.

Both sides of the aisle need a peaceful session, no demonstrations, and no angry constituents; on the other hand the opposition party will try and ratchet up their supporters.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

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