Cuomo, legislators reach deals on medical marijuana, teacher evaluations - The Buffalo News
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Cuomo, legislators reach deals on medical marijuana, teacher evaluations

ALBANY – Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have come together on two of the more contentious issues of the 2014 State Legislature session, with tentative deals this afternoon on a limited medical marijuana system for some chronic health conditions and a two-year delay in job performance evaluations of public school teachers based on the controversial Common Core standards.

Cuomo announced the medical marijuana deal this afternoon. Legislators have been pushing the measure for years. The governor had opposed medical marijuana in his first three years in office, but then earlier this year said the drug could be effective for some patients if regulated properly.

Cuomo said the new bill “strikes the right balance’’ between needs of some patients and public safety.

The deal includes a limited list of covered diseases and conditions, including cancer, AIDS and epilepsy. Smoking the drug is prohibited, meaning it can only be prescribed in an oil-based, pill or vaporization format.

Under the legislation the program would be unilaterally suspended if public health or safety problems arise.

In all, 20 dispensing sites will be permitted around the state by five different companies that will grow and dispense the drugs.

Advocates have said they wanted the drug to be available in all forms, including smoking, because patients respond to the drug in different ways depending on whether it is smoked or taken, for instance, in a pill form.

Missing from the announcement was Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, so it is still uncertain if the measure will come to the Senate floor before the end of session tonight or Friday. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat and the Senate’s other co-leader, said this afternoon he is “confident it will pass with a large number of Republican votes on the Senate floor.’’

The legislation restricts marijuana prescription-writing to physicians, and they can face up to four years in prison for writing a prescription to a patient if they “know or should know’’ that they are not eligible to participate in the program, according to the State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico.

Cuomo said he is satisfied with the plan because it gives sweeping powers to his health department to run and regulate the program and the ability to “pull the plug out of the wall at any moment’’ if his health or safety advisers say the program is not working.

“We will have the medicinal benefit to people who need it but we make sure there is no risk to public health or safety,’’ Cuomo said.

Critics said the looming deal will end up forcing patients who want to smoke marijuana to simply turn to the black market.

On the teacher evaluation measure, the head of the Assembly education committee, who helped negotiate the deal that appears to be coming together this afternoon, said it likely will likely lead officials in New York to eventually re-examine the whole Common Core program.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat, said the temporary time-out in the Common Core program to use the new standardized tests as at least 20 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation “will spark another round’’ of talks about the Common Core standards. She noted the debate over teacher evaluations in New York comes a day after the governor of Louisiana moved to end his state’s Common Core program.

Cuomo this afternoon introduced a program bill to give a two-year delay – during the 2013-14 and/or 2014-15 school years – to the use of standardized tests based on the Common Core curriculum as part of teacher evaluations in school districts across the state. The same break was given to students – in the form of the tests basically not counting against their promotion or graduation – back in March.

The teacher evaluation deal was quickly embraced by the New York State United Teachers union, the politically potent labor group that has pushed all year to delay the implementation of the new performance review program.

“We’re looking forward to ensuring that the annual professional performance review actually can hit the pause button so that teachers are treated fairly like students are treated,’’ Karen Magee, president of the union, told reporters at the Capitol this afternoon.

The deal also means that those teachers who got “developing’’ or “ineffective’’ ratings this year will now not have those labels on their performance reviews. But those teachers who received the higher job ratings – “highly effective” and “effective’’ – will keep those performance standards on their records.

Magee said the recalculation could affect 1,000 teachers judged to be “ineffective” and up to 10,000 who received “developing” labels.

“It’s not a delay or a moratorium. It’s a reset,’’ Magee said of the teacher evaluation deal.

The legislation is expected to be voted on later tonight or Friday.

Nolan and the governor’s office were not yet officially calling it a three-way deal today on the teacher evaluations, especially since the matter shortly after 1 p.m. was being discussed in a closed-door meeting by Senate Republicans.

“It gives the teachers the breathing room we gave to students during the state budget,’’ Nolan said in an interview this afternoon.

The Common Core, already dismissed as a failure by many parents across the state, targets English and math skills in grades three through eight.


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