The 2013 legislative session, which was scheduled to end last Thursday, came to a close early Saturday morning when Senate adjourned after an all-night, marathon session.

While some agreements were reached and approved by both houses, some high-profile legislative issues were not resolved.  While the Legislature is not currently scheduled to return until January 2014, it is possible that they will return to Albany at some point before then.

Here are some high-profile issues that were approved by both houses:

Local Government Restructuring

The Governor tried to use the expiration of a “binding arbitration” requirement for uniformed public employees as leverage to negotiate significant changes to that law.  But in the end, he accomplished little.  The approved bill extends the binding arbitration law for three years.  It makes minor modifications to the existing binding arbitration law that will require arbitrators to consider a municipality’s fiscal health and their ability to pay prior to determining a contract award. This standard is consistent with the standards that arbitrators currently follow.

The bill also establishes a 10-member Financial Restructuring Board that fiscally distressed cities can seek assistance from in terms of leveraging state efficiency grants.  Members will include the Budget Director who will serve as Chair, the State Comptroller, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and six other members appointed by the Governor.

You can read our full statement on the changes at http://www.unshackleupstate.com/news/press-releases/binding-arbitration-proposal

START-UP NY

Both houses approved Gov. Cuomo’s initiative to “transform university communities into magnets for new business and investment, called START-UP NY. ” START-UP NY is an acronym for SUNY Tax-free Areas to Revitalize and Transform UPstate NY. (Read the Governor‘s press release here.)

The program will allow new businesses that locate on or near public and private colleges and universities throughout the state to operate tax-free if they create new jobs.

While the original proposal would have only applied in areas north of Westchester County, the program will have some limited participation in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk.

Twenty “strategic state assets” can also be designated as “tax-free communities.” These must be State-owned vacant land or facilities, and must be affiliated with a college or university to attract new employers and new jobs and transform the site into a regional economic engine.

Gov. Cuomo said:

“The State University of New York campus system, along with other college communities, will serve as the framework of the START-UP NY program to attract high-tech and other start-ups, venture capital, new business and investments from across the world. START-UP NY will entice companies to bring their ventures to Upstate New York by offering new businesses the opportunity to operate completely tax-free – including no income tax for employees, no sales, property or business tax – while also partnering with the world-class higher education institutions in the SUNY system. In addition, the START-UP NY program will help existing companies, especially high-tech firms and start-ups, stay in New York and grow. “

The final bill also contained some changes that we recommended.  There is an anti-competition clause that will help protect existing businesses by not allowing direct competitors to enter a region.  There were also changes to the Excelsior Job program to allow smaller businesses in the state to apply and receive credits.

The agreed-to legislation also expands the Mandate Relief Council to rename it as the Mandate Relief and Regulatory Relief Council, and expands its jurisdictions to address regulations and policies that are cost-drivers to businesses.  This is a great idea, and we intend to keep a close eye on this.

But given the relative lack of accomplishment from the Mandate Relief Council, we are not convinced that this will do much to provide relief to businesses any time soon.

You can read our statement at http://www.unshackleupstate.com/news/press-releases/startupnystatement

If you have suggestions about issues that you think Unshackle Upstate should send to the Mandate Relief and Regulatory Relief Council, please share them with us so we can try to get this entity to take them on.

Constitutional Amendment and Authorizing Legislation on Casino Gambling

Both houses gave final passage to a constitutional amendment to authorize the state to issue licenses for seven commercial casinos throughout the state if voters approve a November referendum.

Under enabling legislation, the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act, four Upstate casinos can be sited in the next seven years.  This legislation establishes a casino facility siting board to accept and evaluate applications for four casinos licenses in three upstate regions:  the Capital Region, the Southern Tier and the Catskills/Hudson Valley area.  The remaining Upstate regions host Indian casinos, and will not be eligible for commercial casinos.
The bill further provides that no casinos can be sited in the New York City area for seven years in order to let facilities build up their businesses.

So now the decision comes to us, the people.  Do we want Las Vegas-style casinos in New York?  Start thinking about it because in November you will see it on the ballot.

Unless both houses of the Legislature pass the exact same bills, they do not become law.  Here are some high-profile issues that the two houses did not reach agreement on:

Women’s Equality Act

One of Gov. Cuomo’s highest priorities this session was his “Women’s Equality Act,” which included 10 different proposals to address gender-based discrimination.  The most controversial part of the proposal was language that would recodify the state’s abortion law.

The Assembly approved the Governor’s bill in its entirety, including the abortion provision. But the Senate did not take the bill up because of opposition to that provision.

Instead, the Senate split the bill into its 10 separate parts, and introduced each part as a separate bill.  On Friday, the Senate approved the nine non-controversial provisions.  Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein’s effort to bring the abortion language to the floor failed by a single vote.

As a result, since the two houses did not approve the same legislation, the proposal was effectively rejected by the Legislature.

Campaign Finance Reform and Public Corruption

The Legislature did not act on the Governor’s campaign finance reform proposal or his public corruption bill.

On campaign finance, the Assembly approved a bill that was similar to the Governor’s bill, but the Senate did not act.  The Senate Democrats’ attempted to bring the Governor’s bill to Senate floor on Thursday evening, falling two votes short.

In the wake of numerous indictments of legislators this session, the Governor proposed a bill to make it easier for district attorneys throughout the state to prosecute public corruption.  But neither the Assembly nor the Senate acted on the bill.

Consistent with Albany’s past practice, the Senate approved a number of the Governor’s appointees in the last days of the legislative session. These are some of the most significant nominees approved:

–       Linda Hull to serve on the Workers Compensation Board.  Linda is well regarded in workers compensation circles, has been president and owner of Rochester-based Upstate WorkComp Inc. since 1994.  I have had the pleasure of working with Linda for well over a decade.  She will be a tremendous asset to the Workers Compensation Board.

–       Audrey Zibelman to serve on Public Service Commission.  Gov. Cuomo announced that he intends to designate Ms. Zibelman as PSC Chair.  She is an expert in energy policy, markets and Smart Grid innovation, who founded and served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Viridity Energy, Inc.

–       Richard Kauffman as Chair of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). He also serves as Governor Cuomo’s Chairman of Energy and Finance.  Before joining the Cuomo administration, he was an advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.