NY Legislature Begins 2015 Session, Waits for Cuomo’s Return

January 7, 2015 Updated: January 7, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y.—New York lawmakers gaveled into 2015 Wednesday, beginning a six-month session that’s likely to focus on education policy, New York City’s rent laws, and the debate over police safety and alleged misconduct.

The Assembly and Senate both convened shortly after noon for a mostly formal first day that saw Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos re-elected to their positions for two years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo intended to deliver his state of the state address Wednesday night but postponed the speech for two weeks following the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. The administration plans to release its proposed state budget late this month.

“We have to show strong support for our police officers.”
— Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos

One change from last session: The Senate had been controlled by a coalition of Republicans and a breakaway faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference. But that power-sharing arrangement was made unnecessary after Republicans won a clear Senate majority in last fall’s elections.

Skelos said he intends to continue to consult with Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads the five-person IDC. But Klein will no longer hold the title of co-leader and will have less control over the fate of legislation.

Senators said the fatal shooting of two New York City officers shows the need for legislation to protect police. The Senate plans to hold hearings quickly.

“We have to show strong support for our police officers, and our (Republican) conference will do it,” Skelos said.

Democrats who control the Assembly, meanwhile, plan to hold hearings on criminal justice reforms after the Cuomo administration makes proposals expected to address alleged police misconduct and perceptions by minorities that they are treated unfairly. The July death of an unarmed Staten Island man, videotaped in a confrontation with police, led to protests.

“They’re doing police safety,” Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said of the Senate. “That’s not criminal justice reform.” Lentol chairs the Assembly Codes Committee that will hold hearings.

A worker performs maintenance work on a camera in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The 2015 legislative session began on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A worker performs maintenance work on a camera in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The 2015 legislative session began on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Education and Rent

Education policy is likely to dominate the agenda as well, particularly when it comes to New York City. Charter school proponents want to lift a cap on the number of charters allowed within the city, and the law giving New York City’s mayor control over city schools expires this year.

The city’s rent stabilization laws are also set to expire in June. Supporters said the laws keep New York City livable for middle and working class residents, but critics said they’re an unfair burden on real estate owners.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, said he and several colleagues are committed to closing loopholes in New York City’s rent regulations that are problematic for tenants.

There will be another push to increase New York’s minimum wage, which recently rose to $8.75, and let more expensive cities raise it further, Kavanagh said. The Assembly and Cuomo agreed last year to legislation. “It’s ripe to talk about with the Senate,” Kavanagh said.

Silver was re-elected speaker by his Democratic colleagues, who gave him a standing ovation. Assemblyman Charles Barron voted no, saying Silver closed the Assembly office in his district after Barron’s wife vacated the seat.

Assemblyman Steve Katz, a Hudson Valley Republican, said they shouldn’t choose someone under investigation, referring to a newspaper report of a federal probe into Silver’s outside income as a lawyer and whether he disclosed it all. Silver has declined to discuss it.

Assemblyman Jose Rivera, a Bronx Democrat said, “If it’s not broken, no need to fix it,” and voted for Silver.

From The Associated Press