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Local News

June 25, 2013

Albany session marked by deals, scandals

While the 2013 legislative session at the state Capitol was blemished by corruption charges against four lawmakers, it wound up with New York on course to allow voters to decide whether to allow full-blown private casinos to open upstate and a deal to set up tax-free zones near college campuses.

The same session also saw the resignation of a powerful veteran Democrat, Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, after he was accused of sexual harassment and lecherous advances towards young female aides.

Tarnished in that scandal was state government’s second most powerful Democrat, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who was criticized in investigative reports for trying to keep the Lopez scandal secret and authorizing unusual payouts with taxpayer funds to the victims.

Though the beginning of a session is usually occupied with budgetary matters, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the heels of the Connecticut school massacre in December, aggressively pushed through the New York SAFE ACT —a ban on assault weapons that many New York gun owners argue infringes on their constitutional rights.

Lawmakers made a minor amendment to the law last week, opting to allow retired police officers to own large-capacity ammunition clips, which the SAFE Act prohibits for those not involved in law enforcement.

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said Monday he voted against the new amendment, even though he noted was sympathetic to the merits of allowing retired officers to own magazines holding more than the seven-shell limit on other gun owners.

“I’m holding out for full repeal,” Seward said.

Cuomo had billed his own legislation as the first legislative response in the nation to the Connecticut tragedy. Bugt over the months that followed his public approval rating slipped notably — especially among upstate voters, according to public polls.

His administration has since focused heavily on promoting the legislation setting up tax free zones near State University campuses, a plan billed as an economic stimulus program. The governor initially called his plan “Tax-Free NY.”

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