Now that the dust has settled on Albany’s 2013 Legislative session, what happened? Which good bills made it through both houses? Which ones were blocked? Did bad bills gain traction and did rollbacks of protections to our clean air and water win the day?
Let’s start with the good news.
The Assembly passed every piece of the environmental community’s priority agenda setting the table for the Senate to act – more on what happened over in the Senate later.
A number of modest measures passed both houses this year. Ten of the 53 bills on which we issued support memos were passed by both houses, and should be going to the Governor for his signature.
Two are particularly notable. The first requires the recycling of thermostats that contain dangerous mercury, which was priority bill for many of our partners. The second authorizes the state to control invasive populations of wild boar. These feral animals are not only dangerous to people but would devastate forests, farms, and wildlife if left unchecked.
We were also successful in blocking a lot of really bad proposals. Since January, there have been several attempts by the Senate to greenlight measures harmful to our environment, as well as roll back existing protections at the expense of our water, air, land and health. We and our partners successfully defeated every single one of those plans.
For instance, we helped blocked a three smokestack bill – our worst rating on environmental legislation – that would have allowed dangerous car-sized ATVs to roam free in New York.
We also squashed another series of three smokestack bills to roll back thousands of regulations that protect the environment and public health. One bill pushed by Senator Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Senator Klein (D-Bronx) proposed that every piece of oversight the state provides be viewed solely through the lens of economic development and what is good for the pockets of business – not what is in the best interests of our health, families and communities.
The Definition of Gridlock
Entering the year we had high hopes for real action between the rhetoric pledging significant action following Superstorm Sandy and the Senate’s first coalition government. We had every reason to believe that environmental protections stood a better chance of passage with Democratic Senator Jeff Klein leading a so-called group of “moderates” alongside Republican Senator Dean Skelos and a conference which has historically been difficult to move on issues ranging from protecting New Yorker’s from fracking to our kids from toxic chemicals.
How wrong we were.
Instead, for the second year in a row, the state Senate will not deliver a single Super Bill (the highest priority item for the environmental community) to the Governor for his signature. These bills are common sense measures to deal with big environmental challenges: protecting against the dangers of fracking, building a future powered by clean energy, and protecting our families from toxic chemicals.
On issue after issue, Senate leaders Skelos and Klein refused to allow simple votes on legislation, and stymied proposals advanced by anyone other than members of their Majority Coalition. Worse yet, even many of those proposals sponsored by members of the ruling Independent Democratic and Republican conferences stalled in Senator Mark Grisanti’s Environmental Conservation Committee. Here’s a quick status report on where those issues stand in the upper house:
We continued to lead diverse coalitions opposing irresponsible fracking in New York. We garnered 34 cosponsors for the Hazardous Waste Loophole Bill and 24 on the fracking moratorium bill. Despite broad recognition that both bills would pass if brought to a vote, Senator Grisanti kept both off the Environmental Conservation Committee’s agenda. And Senators Klein and Skelos refused to allow a vote on either. Thousands of our members emailed and called Senators Skelos and Klein in the final weeks of session demanding a simple up or down vote on the fracking moratorium.
Senator Phil Boyle, a Republican from Long Island, led efforts on this bill and we worked closely with he and his staff to line up a whopping 37 sponsors, including 10 members of the Majority Coalition. Despite strong interest in passing the bill, Senator Grisanti refused to consider the legislation. Senator Boyle was a true champion on this issue and we’ll be working with him for another push next year.
One of many non-controversial issues that fell victim to this year’s legislative gridlock was Governor Cuomo’s plan to make our state a leader in the development of clean, renewable energy and jobs by placing the NY-Sun Initiative in statute for ten years. Differing bills passed the Senate and Assembly but negotiations to reconcile differing versions ultimately broke down when political games trumped common sense. We’ll be working through the summer to get the job done on solar power.
Senators will have some explaining to do to their constituents. We’ll be sharing stories of their failed leadership and politicking at the expense of real progress to the media and public.
No Summer Vacation for the Watchdog
State legislators may be relaxing poolside, but we’re not letting up just because legislators aren’t in Albany.
Senate leaders stifled democracy this session, but our fight for clean water, clear air and healthy communities doesn’t stop just because the gavel has fallen on the 2013 session. We’re keeping our foot on the pedal until the politicians honor the interests of the people they represent.
Thousands of Environmental Advocates emailed and called Senators Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein in the final weeks of session demanding a simple up or down vote on the fracking moratorium, an agreement on solar power, and measure to protect kids from toxic chemicals. Thanks to your efforts, the politicians are already feeling the heat, and now we need to turn it up at home.
During the summer, we’ll be finding new ways to hold decision-makers accountable for their actions – or inactions. We are targeting our advocacy work in key legislative districts and building our membership to apply pressure to the right people. And in the coming months, we’ll be strengthening and refining our coalition efforts.
We will also continue working with and pushing Governor Cuomo to accomplish as much as he can through his executive agencies. He has made a lot of promises, and we will be keeping a close eye on his follow-through.
Whether it be rallies, press conferences, member events or reports we are your government watchdog and will keep you informed and engaged every step of the way.