Deals in Albany on medical marijuana, Common Core
ALBANY — New York lawmakers worked into the early morning hours to end their six-month session, churning through bills and striking deals to authorize medical marijuana and provide a reprieve to teachers worried about how the new Common Core standards might affect evaluations.
The Assembly adjourned at 3:10 a.m. Friday. The Senate planned to return Friday morning to wrap up with a final vote on medical marijuana.
The bill, the result of a compromise between lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would allow qualifying patients to obtain non-smokeable marijuana from regulated dispensaries. The Assembly passed the bill early Friday, and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said he expected it to pass the Senate.
Both chambers signed off on the Democratic governor's proposal to provide a two-year safety net to teachers who potentially could have lost their jobs because of their students' performance on tests based on the controversial Common Core curriculum standards. Teachers have complained that implementation of the new standards was rushed.
A series of bills intended to address the rise in opiate abuse won easy approval in both the Senate and Assembly. The proposals, backed by Cuomo, include a requirement for insurance companies to better cover substance-abuse treatment and harsher penalties for those who distribute the drugs.
"There have been so many deaths attributed to heroin and opioid addiction we must act decisively, and we must act immediately," said Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who noted that 106 people died in 2013 in Erie County alone.
Cuomo said medical marijuana, the heroin proposal and the teacher evaluation bill were his three top priorities going into the final days of the session.
"We're three for three this week," he told reporters. "Obviously there's always more to do, but it's been a very good week."
Several high-profile bills didn't make the session's final cut, including ones that would raise the minimum wage, create broad public campaign financing and extend financial aid to students in the country illegally.
For the second year, a legislative standoff over abortion derailed a 10-point package of women's equality bills that include measures to combat human trafficking and help domestic violence victims.
Senate leaders oppose a provision that would codify abortion rights, but Assembly leaders have so far balked at calls to divide the package to allow separate votes on each provision.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, supports all 10 of the measures but had called for separate votes when it became clear the other measures would otherwise pass. She said she's frustrated that the bills — such as the one toughening penalties for sex trafficking — again languished despite broad support.
"The public is not going to understand this, how this happened," she said.