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Bills languish as Spitzer travels

Legislative leaders chatted in a cafeteria -- in front of a horde of reporters and cameras -- while Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer jetted off to Seattle to help a fellow Democratic governor raise campaign cash.

So goes another day in Albany in what is supposed to be the mad dash run to the end of the legislative session in one week.

A few weeks ago, Spitzer took a fundraising trip to California. On Wednesday he headed to Washington to help its governor, Chris Gregoire, a fellow Democrat, raise money for her campaign account. "I'm gone for a couple hours, but I'm here working 24 hours a day in every possible way," Spitzer said Tuesday before heading to Seattle.

Much remains in play on key issues.

While state health officials are moving ahead with a plan enacted last year to begin shutting down and merging dozens of hospitals and nursing homes across the state, Senate Republicans announced they would pass a bill to save one hospital: a women's facility located near Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno's district.

Several high-profile facilities are slated to be closed and merged in Western New York, and local lawmakers are pressing to amend the 2006 plan by the Berger Commission, including efforts to save DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made clear he opposes the Senate's bill to save just the one Albany-area hospital. Instead, he said there needs to be a more "comprehensive" look to modify the Berger plan; he did not elaborate. Spitzer has said he wants no changes.

The Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation legalizing marijuana as treatment for certain medical conditions.

In the Senate, Bruno said there is a "compelling argument" for the measure, but Senate Republicans have raised concerns over the Assembly plan that would leave it up to patients to buy their marijuana from dealers or other sources; Assembly Democrats say a 2005 federal court ruling makes state-sanctioned marijuana distributors targets of federal prosecution.

Also in the Senate on Wednesday, lawmakers unveiled a plan to eliminate school taxes for primary homeowners by replacing those funds for districts with additional state aid.

The plan would cost the state $9.5 billion annually when fully in effect in five years if the state's 700 school districts buy into it. But the measure has no companion in the Assembly.

On other issues, the Senate has approved a bill requiring suspects in rape cases to be tested for HIV; Silver said most of his Democratic colleagues in the Assembly back the measure.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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