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Legislature misses adjournment deadline

ALBANY – The State Legislature missed its deadline for adjournment Wednesday night, failing to agree on extending mayoral control of public schools in New York City and a host of related issues.

Last-minute efforts to reach some agreement ended just before 11 p.m. Wednesday, failing to bring together Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate leaders John J. Flanagan Jr. and Jeffrey D. Klein, as well as Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie.

"We would have preferred to have tied everything up with a nice neat bow and returned to our districts with nothing at all left on our plate, but under the circumstances, that just wasn’t possible," Flanagan said.

The majority leader said he and his GOP colleagues support mayoral control.

"Under our leadership, the Senate has approved three different bills to extend mayoral control," he said. "Unlike the Assembly, our bills dealt wholly with education in the City of New York, and would give Mayor de Blasio new tools to ensure every child has a shot at a first-class education."

"The Assembly needlessly tied renewal of mayoral control to dozens of unrelated local tax extenders requested by counties to fund important services for their residents," he added.

Now, the unusual end of session means the Assembly and Senate must return to the Capitol at a later date.

The failure to wrap up all of the Legislature's business could already cause ripple effects across the state. Not only will New York City miss out on extending mayoral control of schools, but several upstate counties may also face problems because of the Legislature's inability to extend county sales tax surcharges.

Heastie immediately seized on the problems now facing counties in a statement he issued early this morning.

"Unlike the Senate, we did not require or request any policy changes in exchange for these extensions," the speaker said. "These actions would have ensured billions of dollars for our local communities to provide the vital services we all depend on and would have provided certainty in school governance for millions of students in New York City."

Enough time lies ahead for counties to plan next year's budgets, but upstate county executives are sure to cry foul.

Speculation gripped the Capitol all day as to whether the Legislature could compromise enough to meet the Wednesday target for adjournment, or whether leaders would have to recall their members at a later date. It went so far as some observers noting whether legislators had yet ordered pizza as a sign they were hunkering down for an all-night session.

In the end, however, both houses of the Legislature took up dozens of bills in a flurry of activity aimed at adjournment.

Mayoral control had loomed throughout the session's closing days as its main obstacle. Legislative leaders shuttled in and out of Cuomo's second floor office throughout the early days of the week, and into Wednesday, too, as they discussed their options.

Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won the Legislature's approval in 2002, and New York City schools have since followed a system in which the mayor replaces an elected board of education with appointees. Bloomberg's successor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, has continued to make a strong case for the arrangement.

The concept was seriously floated in Albany for Buffalo in 2015, but failed to gain any real traction.

This year, upstate Republicans were looking to leverage measures benefiting their own educational concerns, such as more charter schools. But Heastie earlier Wednesday made it clear he was uninterested in linking efforts to encourage more charter schools that are popular among some upstate and Long Island representatives.

"I have had no discussions on charter schools. That's the Senate," he said. "We're not going to pass a bill that includes charter schools."

And while mayoral control did not loom large for many upstate legislators, it nevertheless succeeded in clogging the agenda as Republicans in the Senate and the governor used it as leverage for their own priorities – especially since a June 30 deadline for extension loomed as a major backdrop.

But for the huge New York City delegation to Albany, the issue was a top priority.

"It's important we have mayoral control, it works," Klein said earlier Wednesday. "Something as important as education should rest with the mayor of the City of New York."

Another major item on the agenda that failed to gain attention in the session's waning hours included reorganization of economic development practices in the wake of indictments stemming from the Buffalo Billion and other projects. At least five bills were introduced to deal with issues such as creating a database of transactions, new oversight authority for the state comptroller, and more oversight of Cuomo's regional council system.

Klein said there has been discussion during the last two meetings. Heastie would not go that far, even though no action resulted.

"We have no resolution," the speaker said early Wednesday. "I wouldn't say there has been no discussion."

Throughout this year's session, Cuomo has argued vigorously for preservation of his economic development model built on regional councils addressing regional needs and on programs like the Buffalo Billion. He even lashed out at critics like Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger earlier in the year for the Kenmore Democrat's criticism, contending legislators were looking to return to days of "old fashioned pork."

"I will stop the money before allowing it to be distributed as member items, because in my opinion, it’s a waste of money,” he said in Buffalo in January. “If they don’t want the Buffalo Billion, I will spend half of my remaining life in Buffalo talking to constituents and explaining how they did not fight for their constituents and their residents. That I can promise you.”

Part of the final deliberations also included $90 million in relief for communities along Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and Finger Lakes shorelines devastated by flooding from recent high water levels. Though the Senate and Assembly had early in the week sent similar bills to Cuomo for his consideration, Klein said on Wednesday that the matter had also entered into the final negotiations – though all were basically on board.

"All of us are on the same page," he said. "We have to help our state neighbors."

In another development, Flanagan late in the evening introduced a bill to name the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the late Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. With Flanagan's backing in the Republican Senate, it was considered a good bet the bill would pass the Democratic Assembly and gain the signature of the late Cuomo's son – the current governor. But the measure had not advanced to the Assembly in the morning's early hours.

The Legislature also late Wednesday extended for another five years Kendra's Law, named for Fredonia native Kendra Webdale who died in 1999 after being pushed in front of an approaching subway train in Manhattan's 23rd Street Station.

The law grants judges the authority to require people who meet certain criteria to regularly undergo psychiatric treatment to prevent what happened to Webdale, whose Fredonia family was instrumental in securing original passage of the law in 1999.

“The Assembly majority is aware of the importance of this legislation, as well as the importance of ensuring New Yorkers receive access to the mental health services they need,” Heastie said. “We also recognize that extending the legislation not only allows us, but compels us to reevaluate the program every few years to look for opportunities for improvement.”

The state also took initial steps to continue fostering its burgeoning craft beer and beverage businesses, which have been encouraged by the Cuomo administration and benefited from various state incentives in recent years. A bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, was passed by both the Senate and Assembly and now goes to Cuomo for his consideration.

If signed, it will allow licensed breweries, cider producers and distilleries to provide tastings without paying sales tax, even if they charge for the tasting and would provide the same exemption granted to wineries in New York State.

“As the number of breweries and distilleries increases across New York, including many farm-based operations, we must ensure that we provide a level playing field for those in the industry,” Gallivan said. “Right now, these businesses don’t enjoy the same sales tax benefits provided to wineries. That’s not fair to them or their customers.”

The Senate, meanwhile, spent most of its afternoon confirming dozens of nominations to various boards, commissions, and appointed posts. They ranged from the Workers Compensation Board to the Commission on Corrections.

Most significant, however, may have been the Senate's confirmation of Appellate Justice Paul Feinman as the first openly gay associate judge of the Court of Appeals. The judge drew praise during his confirmation vote on the floor of the Senate, and Cuomo (who appointed him) led the way with his statement.

"Paul Feinman's confirmation as associate judge on the Court of Appeals is a major step forward for the state's judicial system," the governor said. "With decades of experience, Judge Feinman is a leader in his field and a trailblazer who joins the court as its first openly gay judge. He has spent nearly his entire career serving New York courts and championing the principles of justice and fairness."

Not all of the session's most publicly debated measures made it into law. That included a child victim "look back" period is being supported by various victim advocacy groups looking to extend the civil and criminal statute of limitations, which did not make it through the Legislature.

It encountered stiff opposition from the Catholic Conference and other groups which argued the statute should not be extended.

But the day as mostly marked by uncertainty from start to finish, as characterized by Heastie in the morning.

"I'm ordering ice cream for today," he said.

Flanagan may have been more optimistic when asked about the overnight disappearance of his stylish goatee.

"This is my end-of-session look," he said, rubbing his clean-shaven chin.

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