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STATE SENATE PASSES BILLS ON UNION DUES, FALLS SCHOOL

The State Senate zipped in and out of the Capitol on Monday, passing bills to make unions happy, cut into ticket scalpers' profits and lower costs for a new high school construction project in Niagara Falls.

The special one-day session, which cost taxpayers at least $15,500 for lawmakers to gather for the approximately 30 minutes they spent in public view, became a political necessity as powerful government employee unions faced the expiration of a law next week allowing them to collect dues from non-members.

Millions of dollars in lost dues were at stake in the fight over the state's "agency shop" law that mandates certain government employees must pay dues whether they belong to a union or not.

Some union leaders have complained privately that the two-year extender process is in place to ensure union donations to legislators; the law has been on the books since 1977.

In the end, with a political holy war at stake from such deep-pocket political interests, there really was little chance the Senate was going to simply let the law expire on Oct. 1.

The Assembly already has approved a two-year extender. The legislation affecting the Niagara Falls school district was one of five bills that was considered and passed Monday. The city is the first in the state to let a private company, Honeywell Corp., build a public school building. The city will then lease the facility from the company.

But a state law sets a ceiling on how much Honeywell could have borrowed before paying taxes on the loan to build the new high school at Hyde Park.

The bill approved Monday will lift the borrowing cap for Honeywell.

The Senate also gave final approval to a measure restricting reselling of tickets to sporting and cultural events. The measure, sponsored in the Assembly by Paul Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, simply extends a law that had been on the books.

The law sets up a buffer zone banning scalping within 1,000 feet of a facility with more than 5,000 seats. Legislative aides said there have been problems at stadiums, including where the Buffalo Bisons play, which saw some people selling tickets gotten for free in promotional events right in front of ticket booths.

The law also restricts the legal resale value of tickets to $5 or 10 percent above a ticket's face value, whichever is greater.

Not everyone came away pleased with Monday's abbreviated session. Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross blasted the Senate for not taking up a measure requiring insurance companies to cover some forms of experimental treatments for seriously ill people.

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