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An hour in Albany: Amid much noise, dealmaking looms in Capitol

ALBANY – Democracy, New York style, made for one very loud hour at noontime at the Capitol Tuesday, offering a precursor for the coming two weeks as the 2019 legislative session winds down.

On the second floor in the historic Red Room, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was making some political noise.

The governor lashed out at Assembly Democrats who oppose him on one pending measure. Then he lashed out at Senate Democrats on any assortment of issues.

Then the Democratic governor capped it all lashing out at all Democratic lawmakers, saying they should all face intraparty primaries next year if an assortment of things he wants doesn’t get approved in coming two weeks.

He was done at 12:30 p.m.

A few minutes later, state workers munching on food truck items on the west side of the Capitol were crowded out of their usual spots by hundreds of union workers rallying for a bill that would impose a “prevailing” – higher – wage on private construction projects funded with any public money. Wearing black, orange and lime green shirts, union members – from laborers to the New England Regional Council of Carpenters – crowded around speakers.

A few minutes after that, a stream of New York City taxis made their way down Washington Avenue. The sight, and the din from their horns blaring, could rightfully make pedestrians confused if they were still in Albany.

A few minutes after that, outside Cuomo’s office on the Capitol’s second floor, about 30 protesters carried out a sit-in, screaming and chanting as a means to get stalled talks moving by Cuomo and lawmakers on legislation they say will address climate change. They were soon joined by more than 100 other demonstrators, whose roar repelled the usual suited lobbyists to find other hallways for their influencing ways while, at the same time, attracting a growing team of state troopers.

All the noise and colors from those and others who came to the seat of state government Tuesday served as a momentary distraction from what’s going on behind the scenes: much talking but no dealmaking yet on an assortment of issues.

Much of the building’s oxygen is being taken up by talks over laws expiring later this week that regulate more than one million rental apartments in and around New York City. This time, upstate has real skin in the game: Some lawmakers want to extend the New York City laws to all areas of the state whose local governments decide they want to opt into the tenant protection provisions. A deal to permit that expansion to upstate was coming together Tuesday evening, sources said.

Cuomo sought to put all the pressure on Democrats who took control of the State Senate in January. The Democratic governor’s relations with that group of Democrats has been, at best, frosty.

Uncharacteristically, he said he is not playing any role in the discussions. He said it’s all up to the legislators to resolve and that he will sign whatever they pass.

“I’m trying to apply heat to the frozen situation because the law is going to expire and that trumps all these little internecine issues," Cuomo said, adding that the rent law’s expiration would cause “chaos and mayhem."

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat who tries often not to take the bait from Cuomo’s rhetorical criticisms of her conference, said of the situation: “I work with what I have, and we have a great partnership with the Assembly."

Less chaotic – though far from resolved – is a push by some to legalize marijuana in New York. The idea has run into resistance from some suburban Long Island and Westchester lawmakers, as well as upstate Republicans, who say marijuana legalization will worsen problems of people driving while high and harm the public’s health.

Cuomo said the opposition is based on politics. A Siena poll on Monday found marijuana legalization has the support of 55% of New Yorkers, compared with 40% who oppose it. But Cuomo said lawmakers are worried more about the opponents who might retaliate against them politically.

“I’m a legislator. Why would I want to make 40% of the people unhappy? Why don’t I just do nothing? Isn’t that better for me politically?” he said.

For her part, Stewart-Cousins said senators are still studying recent amendments made to the marijuana bill.

“I’ve always said, and this is no matter what, we want to get it right. We want to listen to what people are saying. We want to learn from what other states have experienced," she said Tuesday after lawmakers returned from a long weekend.

Both houses are plowing through the bills. One on the State Senate’s agenda Tuesday: banning the use of wild animals in circuses and prohibiting drones being used for the hunting or killing of wildlife.

But one of Cuomo’s end-of-session agenda items was stalled: allowing for compensation by people who participate in gestational surrogacy. Cuomo says it is long overdue for straight couples who can’t conceive or gay couples to be able to pay a woman to carry their child.

The idea has interesting allies opposing it: the Catholic Church, which says it would legalize baby-selling, and an assortment of women’s rights organizations, which have said it could lead to exploitation of women, especially low-income people.

Cuomo was having none of the arguments against the surrogacy bill, which the State Senate passed on Tuesday. He said the measure includes a variety of protections for women who become surrogates, and that surrogacy compensation is permitted in 47 states.

Cuomo singled out three Assembly Democrats – all women – who have raised concerns about the bill. At first, he said, “I respect my colleagues in the Assembly. We have differences of opinions." Later, he added of the three lawmakers: “They are hurting women."

One of those lawmakers, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said “it’s interesting” that Cuomo singled out her – the longtime sponsor of an abortion rights bill – along with the first-ever female chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the chair of the Assembly Women’s Caucus.

“It’s an unfortunate lack of respect” by Cuomo, she said.

A range of issues remain unresolved, including whether to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally or permit online sports betting.

The State Senate sponsor on Tuesday updated his bill to permit all pro sports stadiums in New York to have sports betting kiosks; a previous version last week excluded several stadiums, including the facilities home to the Bills and Sabres.

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