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Albany gives attention to the wood frog as session lags

ALBANY – Move aside, yogurt.

It’s the wood frog’s turn.

The State Senate, the target of jokes on national television last year over its floor debate making yogurt the official state snack, argued Wednesday over whether to designate the wood frog as the official state amphibian.

One lawmaker called the frog ugly.

Another railed that time was being spent on such a silly matter when rent-control laws for 2 million New York City apartment dwellers expired this week.

Another suggested that bestowing official status on the wood frog – common in many wooded areas of the Northeast – will devalue properties by actions by aggressive state environmental conservation agents bent on protecting the amphibian.

“This is an asinine bill,” said Sen. Michael N. Gianaris, D-Queens.

So went what was supposed to be the last day of the 2015 legislative session.

Yet with deals on a host of major issues still unresolved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders, rank-and-file lawmakers were left to spend hours on the Senate and Assembly floors debating a hodgepodge of bills, including the Senate’s frog bill, which has no Assembly sponsor.

The frog bill came a couple hours after Senate passage of a measure making the Herkimer diamond – quartz variety only – the official state mineral.

There is no actual legal deadline for lawmakers to wrap up the session. Their motivation, for both Democrats and Republicans, is to flee Albany as soon as possible and put behind them the corruption headlines that have dominated this year.

Cuomo has scheduled a major fundraiser at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for 6 p.m. Thursday. For days, lobbyists and lawmakers have been hopeful that the event would force an end to the session by a governor who can ill afford the look of raising a huge amount of money and then returning to the Capitol to cut policy and fiscal deals.

Still undecided are whether to give tax breaks to help private and religious schools, whether to extend the state’s property tax cap, whether a dedicated source of funds should be created for struggling upstate school districts, and how to extend New York City rent-control laws and tax breaks for downstate housing developers, By nightfall, lawmakers were lamenting that the session is likely to continue until Friday.

Sources said the one possibility would be to jettison Cuomo’s Education Investment Tax Credit plan in favor of a broader, income-based tax deduction for parents with children in public and private schools. One scenario being considered calls for a $3,000-per-child deduction, which would end up being worth about $200 per child in actual benefit to parents.

Meanwhile, heavy maneuvering was underway Wednesday as two lawmakers said some Assembly Democrats, including gun control supporters, are pressing to give in to Senate Republicans on some of their more modest proposals to change the state’s SAFE Act gun-control law.

These lawmakers, fighting against their own conference, believe that it would push the GOP to more readily give in on some priorities the Assembly Democrats want.

After closed-door talks with Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx., and Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan Jr., R-Huntington, had little substantive to say about the status of the negotiations or prospects for agreement.

Cuomo has not been publicly available this week in Albany to discuss the status of talks.

Lawmakers kept themselves busy passing dozens of measures Wednesday, many of them local in nature. For instance, the Legislature went through a long ritual of extending the state’s ability to manage the taking of fish, such as cod, herring, sharks and flounder.

Other bills getting final passage included creation of a new state income tax checkoff for residents who want to contribute to an autism awareness and research fund, and a measure requiring the City of Tonawanda to accept a retroactive application for a property tax exemption to the Historical Society of the Tonawandas.

There was also some movement on a bill, inspired by snowstorms in the Buffalo area in the last several years that have seen motorists stranded on the Thruway, to let the highway agency enter into mutual assistance agreements with localities and snowmobile associations during emergencies. The bill passed the Senate and is pending before the Assembly.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com