Legislation allowing government workers in New York to get paid leave to volunteer with the Red Cross in times of disaster, a measure that died last year at the Capitol, was signed into law Wednesday.
The bill, which has been sitting in the Senate since it was given final approval in May, was shipped over to Gov. George E. Pataki for his consideration just two days after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.
The new law, which takes effect immediately and is modeled after similar provisions in more than 40 other states, allows state and local government agencies to give paid leave for up to 20 days each year to government employees to volunteer as Red Cross disaster relief workers. An amendment is planned to be approved in the coming weeks that would make the law retroactive to Sept. 11.
A memo accompanying the legislation talks of its need because of the rash of natural disasters that have hit the state in recent years.
"We knew when we introduced this legislation that it would enhance the Red Cross' ability to respond to disasters, both man-made and natural. We never imagined it would be needed so soon," said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly along with Sen. George Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, in the Senate.
"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the importance of the assistance provided by the American Red Cross volunteers has never been more evident," Maziarz said.
The paid leave would be available to trained Red Cross volunteers only, and would be at the employer's discretion.
In other Capitol news, sources say state legislators have been told to be prepared to come back to Albany next week to take up a number of possible relief measures related to the World Trade Center attack. It would be the third time lawmakers have come back in special session since Sept. 11; a week ago, they approved an anti-terrorism package.
Still unresolved are a host of other issues, including additional spending Pataki and lawmakers had wanted to earmark for education, economic development and other issues.
In addition, a proposal to allow up to three casinos in Western New York also has been put aside for the time being. That plan still needs Assembly approval.
Moreover, lawmakers are eager to figure out ways to approve $150 million, or more, in their annual allotment in "pork barrel" spending; such a vote so close to the terrorist attack, however, would need tremendous political cover to avoid lawmakers' being marked as unsympathetic to the needs of lower Manhattan.
Legislators on Wednesday said they doubted the broader budget and casino issues would be taken up next week if the 211-member Legislature does return to Albany on Wednesday or next Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno confirmed Wednesday evening that the two houses could return within the next 10 days, though he was vague about what issues could be taken up. He did, however, say the World Trade Center attack had put substantial financial pressures on the state government, to the point that Albany will "absolutely" have to tap into the state's rainy-day emergency funds to pay for various programs.
Bruno said all groups that rely on state funding must "lower expectations as to what state government can provide" as a massive, undetermined fiscal bailout of New York City hits the top of the state's spending priorities. He made his remarks hours after he and state senators toured the twin towers disaster site.