Gun Control, Fracking Among Top 2013 Issues at State Capitol

Dec 21, 2012

Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers will face a number of issues in 2013 ranging from raising the state’s minimum wage, to campaign finance reform, to gun control.

Some of the topics that are expected to dominate the session are the so –called progressive issues. Governor Cuomo, who has set the agenda for the first two legislative sessions of his term, seems to be planning on doing the same in 2013. And he’s already introduced what he calls a “litmus test” of issues in exchange for conditional support of a new Senate governing coalition. They include raising the minimum wage, reforming  New York City’s stop and frisk laws by legalizing public possession of small amounts of marijuana, and campaign finance reform. Cuomo says the current campaign system is a “hodge podge quilt” of confusing rules that are riddled with loopholes.

“We’re going to put forth a fundamental reform in campaign finance, disclosure, etc,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he wants to force more disclosure of the activities of super PACs that take advantage of loopholes under not for profit rules to hide their donors. But he stopped short of saying that public financing of campaigns has to be included in a final package. Cuomo is perhaps anticipating resistance from the new Senate leadership, which include five members of a break away Democratic faction and all of the chamber’s Republicans.  

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos has already expressed reservations.

“My concern is that when we’re dealing with deficits, you’d have potentially $200 million in taxpayer dollars going to be spent on campaign financing,” Skelos said.

Gun control measures are expected to take front and center in the new session. The governor and legislative leaders have been discussing closing loopholes in the state’s assault weapons ban and several other measures in the wake of the Newtown Connecticut school shooting.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’ll reintroduce  several bills, ranging from child safety locks for guns, and micro stamping of bullets to better investigate criminal shootings.

“I hate to use a tragedy in this fashion, but the reality is, we have to stop the proliferation of guns,” Silver said. 

Cuomo has promised to add economic development issues to his State of the State message, focusing on the troubled upstate economy.  He has not said whether permits for the controversial natural gas drilling process known as hydro fracking will be part of that plan. The state’s environmental agency is now expected to finally conclude a lengthy four and a half year process in late February.

The New York State Business Council’s Heather Briccetti says it’s about time.

“We’d like to get the ball rolling here,” said Briccetti.

But during the delay, opposition to fracking has only grown.  Bill McKibben, a nationally known environmentalist and author, spoke at one of many rallies held at the Capitol, and urged the governor to oppose fracking. 

“This is his gut check moment,” McKibben said. “And we will all be watching.”

The expansion of casino gambling as an economic development engine will also be a major topic in 2013. New Yorkers may get a chance to vote on whether they want to allow up to 7 new gambling parlors in the state.

The state legislature first must approve second passage of a constitutional amendment to allow casinos on non-Indian lands, before the measure gets to the ballot in November.    Governor Cuomo says voters likely won’t approve exact locations for the casinos, he’d like market forces to decide instead.

“I would like to see a competition where we have the ability and opportunity to attract the most exciting, aggressive proposal from the best operators in the world,” Cuomo said. “And then we get to pick among the best options.”

The governor says local residents will have some say if a casino is ultimately planned for their town, but he says it’s unlikely that they would be allowed to vote on a specific proposal.

The governor will also release his state budget plan by mid January. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are still waiting on action from Congress on a $60 billion dollar aid request for relief from Superstorm Sandy. Cuomo says if the money doesn’t come, then budget could have a much larger than expected deficit.