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Albany lawmakers OK Sunday morning alcohol sales, steps to combat opioid crisis in overtime session

ALBANY – Final deals and legislation came together late Friday at the state Capitol to combat growing numbers of abandoned, foreclosed homes and require testing for lead in public school buildings

The deals came as lawmakers, in fits and starts, pressed to end their 2016 session early Saturday morning, after a day of closed-door blow-ups and then resolutions by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders as they wrestled to nail down deals they thought had already been largely resolved Thursday.

Lawmakers gave final passage to dozens of additional bills late Friday and early Saturday, including new steps to address worsening opioid addiction problems across the state and changes in long-standing “blue laws” to let New Yorkers drink earlier in the day on Sundays in restaurants and bars.

Cuomo and legislative leaders waited until almost sundown to announce a deal on a measure the governor said will bring “more transparency, trust and faith to state government.” The deal strips public pensions from some officials convicted of wrongdoing and places new restrictions on so-called “dark money” independent campaign groups. But it does not, as watchdog groups hoped, deal with loopholes in campaign finance laws that allow certain entities to skirt donation limits or address the outside income activities of public officials.

“This is not the ethics reform package that the public is asking for or deserves … It is directed at the conduct of everybody but the Legislature and the executive,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

A bill to legalize daily fantasy sports contests passed the Assembly band then the Senate Saturday morning.

Deals also were announced to:

• Release an initial $570 million in funding for supportive housing construction that will go mostly to New York City in a program that will take at least 15 years to complete. Advocates have been pressing for the program’s full $20 billion to be committed;

• Reduce an increasing problem of “zombie homes” being left vacant by foreclosure by enforcing a “pre-foreclosure duty” on lenders to maintain vacant and abandoned properties and providing additional assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure;

• Mandate the testing for lead in public schools, with parents on the list of recipients of testing results and part of the funding for the tests coming from Albany;

• Allow “high-performing” charter schools to choose between the State University of New York or the state Education Department for their state governing body. SUNY has long been viewed as more “charter friendly” among those in the charter school movement.

Software programs called “bots” that allow some ticket brokers to grab mass amounts of tickets to concerts and sports events will be banned under a bill that got final approval Friday. It aims to create a “more equitable ticket buying process” for consumers who often find themselves blocked from buying event tickets before public sales even start. Penalties can now include prison or fines for use of bots or for selling tickets knowingly obtained with bot software.

Locally oriented bills sailed through on the final day, including one creating a residential parking permit system in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt. Others addressed problems that are perhaps not quite so apparent: funeral homes will now be able to offer catered food and beverages at services they host, though the measure specifically bans consuming food or drinks in an embalming room.

Final passage also was given Friday to a bill allowing charitable organizations to sell raffle tickets on the internet to customers, who can use credit or debit cards to pay for them.

The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, said the measure was needed to help nonprofits to use technologies developed since the state first classified raffles as legal games of chance in 1994.

The Legislature also gave final approval to several deals cut earlier this week, including expanding treatment to deal with a heroin and opioid addiction crisis hitting many communities. The agreement changes how insurance companies and health care professionals deal with residents who are prescribed opiates or battling an addiction, reduces how much of an opiate can be prescribed at once and limits some patients to an initial seven-day supply of such prescriptions.

Not included in the bill are additional enforcement requirements for drug dealers and cross-state doctor shopping. Republicans had hoped to place additional penalties on drug dealers, especially those who deal to someone who then suffers from an overdose.

Lawmakers also approved the Sunday “brunch bill,” which moves back the noontime start for alcohol sales everywhere from bars and restaurants to the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Alcohol sales will be permitted, once Cuomo signs the bill, at 10 a.m. statewide Sundays, with a limited 8 a.m. start time for upstate and Long Island outlets that obtain an additional state permit.

As sundown approached, the Cuomo administration and lawmakers announced an agreement, the details of which already trickled out Thursday, to try to deal with Albany’s black eye from the continuing flow of corruption cases involving state officials.

It includes a proposed constitutional amendment – needing approval from another legislative session and voters – to prevent government pensions from going to certain government officials convicted of corruption related to their official duties.

The deal also restricts the activities of independent expenditure committees, which have been permitted to flourish since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, by – among other things – limiting ways such committees can coordinate activities with a political candidate.

The agreement, not as sweeping as watchdog groups had hoped, lowers the threshold for how much organizations and individuals can spend to lobby before publicly disclosing their source of funding to a state ethics agency. It also creates new disclosure requirements for the funding sources of certain tax-exempt organizations involved in “issue advocacy.” The deal also reverses a state ethics agency decision that treated communications by groups or individuals with newspaper editorial boards as a form of lobbying subject to public disclosure. Political action committees will have to make public the names of people with operational control over their groups.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group called it a cobbled-together package that does not deal with “the heart of the problem in Albany.”

“When U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Albany had a culture of corruption, he wasn’t thinking of not-for-profits and lobbyists. He was thinking of public officials using their office for private gain, and that really isn’t addressed,” he said.

Bharara is the federal prosecutor who has brought many of the major corruption cases against Albany officials.

News Albany Bureau Reporter Dan Clark contributed to this report. email: