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Cuomo receptive to Lake Ontario flood relief, as Legislature faces end of session

ALBANY – The state Senate and Assembly have unanimously approved $90 million in flood relief for residents and municipalities ravaged by Lake Ontario floods in a measure now awaiting the approval of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Though the governor may still offer his own changes to the legislation passed this week, his office has signaled its initial approval of the concept. It is now all but certain that Albany will be responding to the historic high water levels this spring that damaged homes, roads, shorelines and the economy along the New York shore.

“The governor is committed to providing significant relief to the communities along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline, and we will review the bill in that context,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said Tuesday.

It's been a slower slog on the major items facing the Legislature as it rushed to meet its scheduled adjournment date – Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan Jr. assumed the role of a man of few words when asked late Tuesday if he believed the Legislature will end its session Wednesday as planned.

"Yes," he replied.

But, did he project agreement among state leaders on the key issues of continuing mayoral control of New York City schools in conjunction with measures to encourage more charter schools?

"No, not yet," he said.

That's how state government leaders head into the last scheduled day of the Legislature – leaving top matters still unresolved, but wrapping up deliberations on a number of other items.

Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, Independent Democrat Leader Jeffrey D. Klein and Cuomo are expected to huddle late into Tuesday night to settle their differences, or possibly resume Wednesday.

Albany noted progress on a number of fronts Tuesday, especially on the Lake Ontario flooding issue.

Niagara County Highway Department workers build a living shoreline as a barrier at Olcott Beach on Lake Ontario on Friday May 12, 2017. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Newfane Supervisor Timothy Horanburg, whose Niagara County community is among those severely affected by the flooding, said Tuesday he is thrilled with the action. But, he added, his experience with an initial influx of $17 million from the state left him frustrated.

"I'm hoping that the rules and regulations will be set up so municipalities, businesses and homeowners can get at it," he said. "In the last round nothing was reimbursable; there was too much bureaucracy."

"I just hope it's simple enough so people can get at it," Horanburg said.

Legislative leaders have presented to Cuomo a grant program developed after Storms Sandy, Irene and Lee that allow small businesses, farms, owners of multiple dwellings, owners of residences, homeowners associations, nonprofit corporations and municipalities to receive grants from the Empire State Development Corporation.

The grants would cover sustained direct physical damage caused by flooding that occurred between Jan. 1 and June 30 and include:

  • $15 million for owners of residences, with a $60,000 individual limit
  • $25 million for small businesses, farms, homeowners associations, nonprofit corporations with a limit of $100,000 per grant, and $30,000 for owners of multiple dwellings
  • $25 million for counties, cities, towns, villages and special districts with a $1 million limit for each
  • $15 million to counties for flood mitigation or flood control projects, with individual grants of not less than $300,000 and not more than $500,000

In other actions:

  • Flanagan said he does not expect the Senate to address an effort to extend the "look back period" supported by various victim advocacy groups for extending the civil and criminal statute of limitations. The measure met stiff opposition from the Catholic Conference and other groups who argue the statute should not be extended.
  • Cuomo signed legislation to end child marriage in New York, raising the age of consent to marry from 14 to 18 and amending the process to require parental and judicial consent for marriage of those between 17 and 18.
  • Announced a "Buy American" agreement for purchase of American-made steel and iron products by state entities. Major state entities will required to use American-made structural iron and structural steel for all surface road and bridge projects.
  • The Assembly passed legislation restricting the use of e-cigarettes in public places which also ban regular cigarettes. The Senate has already passed the measure and it now goes to the governor for his consideration.
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