With every elected office in Albany up for grabs this fall, there were higher expectations than normal that long-lingering bills in the state legislature could finally draw support from eager-to-please policymakers. That optimism was bolstered when Governor Pataki and Senate Republicans embraced causes they had previously sneered at, like raises for health care workers and teachers. But as both the state Senate and Assembly prepared to close shop last week, the general consensus was that, with a few notable exceptions, 2002 had been like most other years in Albany: Not much got done.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s a lot of energy for a small result,” said Russ Sykes, vice president of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a statewide policy advocacy organization.
Advocates were most optimistic about efforts to raise the minimum wage to $6.75 an hour, reform the inflexible Rockefeller drug laws and expand the state’s bottle redemption law to include non-carbonated beverages. At press time, those efforts all appeared to have failed.
However, several small but significant gains were achieved in the legislature for those receiving public assistance and for owners of low-income co-ops.
People struggling to fulfill welfare’s strict work requirements while trying to pursue an education or learn English may soon have it a little easier. The Senate passed a basic education bill that allows welfare recipients to count 15 hours a week learning English as a Second Language, earning a GED diploma or even just learning to read as part of the state’s mandated 35 hour work week. The Assembly expects to pass the bill early this week.
Similarly, a 2000 law that allows hours spent working at internships or federal work-study jobs to count toward welfare work requirements was up for renewal. It passed both houses. Calls to Governor Pataki’s office were not returned.
Also on the welfare front, the Senate passed a bill that would keep families from getting kicked off the rolls when income earned by their teenagers makes them ineligible. Now it’s up to the Assembly to decide whether or not earnings from teenage students–money that doesn’t necessarily support the family and could be saved to help pay for college tuition–should be counted as household income.
The Senate also approved a bill that would forgive the $20 million in tax arrears owed by Housing Development Fund Company cooperatives–low-income tenant-owned properties that the city helped create in the early 1980s. Since housing committee chair Assemblymember Vito Lopez authored the bill, it’s expected to pass in the Assembly this week.