Marijuana Plan Appears Doomed in Albany

ALBANY — Facing resistance from the Republican-controlled Senate, a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view appeared near defeat on Monday as lawmakers approached the end of this year’s legislative session. Aides to Mr. Cuomo and leaders of the State Legislature spent the weekend finishing up a series of agreements on other issues, including the creation of a state agency to police the abuse of developmentally disabled people, a temporary state takeover of the New York Racing Association and the closing of a loophole that hindered the prosecution of people who viewed child pornography on the Internet. But with the current session scheduled to end on Thursday, and lawmakers eager to return to their districts to mount re-election campaigns, officials predicted that no other major deals would be reached before they left the capital. “I’m feeling good,” Mr. Cuomo said in an interview on Monday with his predecessor, Gov. David A. Paterson, on WOR-AM. “We’ve had a hectic few days, but a productive and an orderly few days, which as you know, Governor, is something different for the legislative sessions.” In addition to the marijuana bill, Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers had not been able to reach agreements on disclosure rules for teacher evaluations and on a requirement that college and high school coaches report possible acts of sexual abuse to law enforcement. Lawmakers were also unable to reach agreement on proposals to raise the state’s minimum wage and to create a system of public financing for elections.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had set a deadline of midnight on Monday for his office and legislative leaders to reach deals on any legislation that they wanted to pass before the end of the session. That would allow them to comply with a three-day waiting period, required by the State Constitution, to allow the public and lawmakers to review the language of legislation before it is voted upon. In the past, Mr. Cuomo has waived that waiting period, including in March when he brokered deals on redistricting and pension cuts and last year when he pressed for the legalization of same-sex marriage. But that tactic has drawn criticism from government watchdog groups and even a state judge, who last year accused the governor of “arm-twisting” in his dealings with the Legislature over the marriage law. Mr. Cuomo, apparently chastened by the criticism, has said that he would not waive the waiting period this week. He told Mr. Paterson that he wanted to make a statement that communicated the “transparent, orderly functioning of this Legislature over this last week.” Confident everything will proceed according to plan, his office has already invited lawmakers to a party at the Executive Mansion scheduled for Thursday. Mr. Cuomo suggested that any issues unresolved this week could be taken up whenever lawmakers returned to Albany. The next legislative session is scheduled to begin in January, but it is also possible that he could call lawmakers back later this year for a special session.

“Nothing that we have left, frankly, is that urgent that it can’t take more time, and, frankly, wouldn’t be better with more time,” he said in the interview. Perhaps the highest-profile unresolved issue was the marijuana proposal, which Mr. Cuomo unveiled to fanfare this month as a means to reduce the high number of arrests resulting from police stops in New York City. Mr. Cuomo’s proposal drew the support of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and the city’s prosecutors. But Republicans in the Senate objected, arguing that the measure would condone the possession of drugs. Asked on Monday night about the chances that a compromise could be reached, the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, responded, “We do not support decriminalization.” Senate Republicans were under particular pressure from conservatives, who were already upset with the Legislature for legalizing same-sex marriage last year and for approving a tax overhaul in December that created a new tax bracket for the state’s highest-income earners. “There’s a limit to how much the conservative members up and down the state will accept,” said Michael R. Long, the chairman of the State Conservative Party, which had urged the Senate to block the marijuana proposal. Supporters of the marijuana proposal said Monday afternoon that they were still hoping a deal could be worked out at the last minute, but they were clearly frustrated by the Senate Republicans. “I’ve been working in Albany for almost 10 years, and I can’t recall a moment when law enforcement has said, ‘We want to have this changed,’ and the Republican Party leaders in the Senate and the Conservative Party are basically saying that they don’t want to do it,” said Gabriel Sayegh, the state director in New York for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “This is yet another example of how profoundly backwards and dysfunctional this place is.”

via : New York Times

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