Teacher Evaluations, Cyberbullying & Teen Tanning Ban Top Legislative Priorities
By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY — The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are in final talks on giving parents’ rights to review teacher evaluations, implementing a cyberbullying prevention law and reforming how the disabled are treated in state care.
The issues are among the agreements that lawmakers are hoping to reach with Cuomo before the legislative session ends next Thursday.
“There are a lot of issues out there that can close in the next few days,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said in an interview Wednesday with Gannett’s Albany Bureau.
A bill to prevent cyberbullying is nearing agreement, Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, the author of the bill said. The bill would expand an anti-bullying law passed in 2010 to include cyberbullying.
“I think it’s critically important to not only to deal with cyberbullying, but to make sure that bullying in general applies to any and all students as distinguished from the specified classes enumerated in the existing law,” Saland said.
Lawmakers are also expected to agree to prohibit youth under age 16 from indoor tanning, officials said. The Legislature has also passed a bill requiring anyone under the age of 18 to receive parental consent for body piercing; the measure will head to Cuomo’s desk for approval.
The Senate is expected Wednesday to pass a ban on telemarketing calls, which passed the Assembly on Tuesday. The Democratic-led Assembly plans Wednesday to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana, but the measure faces little chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The agreement that could be reached on marijuana deals with decriminalizing limited quantities of marijuana. The Senate has raised objections to Cuomo’s recently introduced proposal, which would hit New Yorkers caught with a small amount of marijuana in public with up to a $100 fine rather than a misdemeanor charge.
Skelos said last week he has concerns with Cuomo’s plan to allow up to 25 grams of marijuana in public view as only a fine, rather than a misdemeanor.
Skelos said he expected the session to finish on time next Thursday. The Cuomo administration has indicated that it won’t approve message of necessities for bills — meaning all bills would have to age three days before they are approved. That means bills would have to be printed by Monday for them to be adopted by next Thursday.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said this week that there aren’t too many loose ends left in the 2012 session, which ends next Thursday.
Silver said that’s because of the major legislative deals that have been accomplished over the past two sessions, such as two on-time budgets, ethics reform, a new pension tier for new public employees, keeping higher income taxes on the wealthy and a property-tax cap.
“Well, I think we’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “Look over the last two years, or 18 months of it, we’ve done a tremendous amount in terms of budget, in terms of millionaires’ tax, in terms of all of the things we did with the budget — that was a highlight. Now, we’re going out and finishing up smaller items.”
Lawmakers and Cuomo are working to reach a deal on Cuomo’s proposal to create a justice center to deal with abuse of disabled residents in group homes. Silver has raised concerns about giving Cuomo too much independence in reforming the group homes, but the sides have indicated they are working toward an agreement.
“There’s a lot of talk, a lot of discussion,” Silver said, when asked if there has been any progress in negotiations with the Senate, which passed the governor’s justice center bill, or Cuomo himself.
The Legislature and Cuomo are also expected to reach a deal before session ends to provide parents with limited access to new teacher evaluations. Cuomo and Silver have raised concerns about making the evaluations widely available, but also have indicated that parents should have a right to the information.
Skelos said he’s hopeful a deal can be reached to provide parents with access to the evaluations.
“I think it should be (public) on a limited basis. I think the parents have a right to know,” Skelos said.
Senate Republicans are seeking small business tax incentives, which would cost the state about $130 million this year. But the issue is bogged down in the fight over whether to increase the minimum wage.
Assembly Democrats want to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50, but Senate Republicans oppose it. They want the tax breaks for job creation instead.
The Senate wants the Assembly to pass a package of anti-crime measures, including making viewing child pornography a felony, creating fines for selling or possessing synthetic marijuana and strengthening Leandra’s Law by ensuring drunk drivers use ignition interlock devices — something rejected by the Assembly on Tuesday.
Skelos said he also expected an agreement to require coaches to report any cases of sexual abuse.