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New York lawmakers to return to Albany for 2017 session

Jan 2, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP)  New York lawmakers will return to Albany on Wednesday to begin their work for 2017, a session expected to include debates over voting laws, corruption, Uber's proposal to expand upstate and the state's response to the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. 

Along the way they'll also budget tens of billions of dollars of state spending on education, health care and roads and bridges, and decide the fate of hundreds of other bills, including proposals to ban the declawing of cats, end the practice of prosecuting and imprisoning 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults and authorize people with terminal illnesses to request life-ending drugs from a physician. 

``There is so much to do,'' said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. ``We have to move our economy forward, lower the tax burden, provide fair funding for our struggling schools. We must fix our election process and make it easier for more people to vote and at the same time pass strong ethics reforms.'' 

The 2016 election will continue to play a major role in 2017. Democrats say the state should push back against Trump if he cracks down on people in the country illegally, seeks to restrict abortion rights or rolls back efforts to address climate change. Already, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed funding a new hate crimes task force to address what he says is an uptick in incidents and an initiative to provide legal help to immigrants facing deportation. 

``New York has a special responsibility,'' the Democrat told congregants at a Harlem church a few weeks after the November election. ``New York still knows what America is supposed to be. And we must shout it from the mountaintops. We must provide guidance to this nation.'' 

State officials will also have to respond if Trump and Congress move to repeal the Affordable Care Act or cut federal funding for Medicaid or other big-ticket programs. 

The election also highlighted the state's antiquated and restrictive voting laws. Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants lawmakers to overhaul the state's voting laws to authorize early voting, encourage greater turnout and eliminate onerous registration deadlines. 

Uber and Lyft will try again with their upstate expansion proposal. The two ride-hailing services are now prohibited from operating outside the New York City area and have long wanted state permission to move into Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester and other upstate cities. So far, however, lawmakers have balked. 

Cuomo supports the expansion, and Uber is bullish about its chances in 2017. 

``We fully expect the Legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, ridesharing legislation in early 2017 and join the 47 other states in the country where residents can get an affordable, reliable ride at the touch of a button,'' said company spokeswoman Alix Anfang. 

Affordable housing and homelessness will be another priority, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx. 

``Too many communities in our state are still struggling to curb homelessness and provide their families with a chance to reach and remain in the middle class,'' Heastie said. ``It remains our top priority to support them and give every New Yorker meaningful tools to succeed.'' 

Internal squabbling and fights for power could complicate the session. The Senate is especially fractious; Democrats have a one-seat majority, but Republicans have control thanks to a handful of Democrats who crossed party lines. There's likely to be conflict between Cuomo and the Legislature as well, as many lawmakers blame Cuomo for blocking their first salary increase in 17 years. 

``He's got a lot of damage control to do,'' Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said Thursday. ``He's created some real strains with the Legislature.'' 

The session gets underway Wednesday with a largely ceremonial first day. In a change from previous years, Cuomo is replacing the traditional State of the State address to lawmakers with a series of regional speeches to be given around the state the week of Jan. 9. The session is expected to end in late June.