Legislature Passes Teacher Eval Plan, Other Issues Atrophy

The New York Assembly holds a debate on disclosure of teacher evaluations at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, June 21, 2012. On the same day, the legislature approved the teacher ratings plan. AP /Tim Roske

On the final day of the legislative session in Albany, the Republican-controlled Senate passed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bill placing limits on the public disclosure of teacher evaluations. Teacher evaluations weren’t the only priority of Cuomo to make it under the wire. On Wednesday, lawmakers passed a law that will effectively overhaul the state’s system of caring for the disabled. While these were big victories for the governor, several polarizing pieces of legislation never made it to vote this year.

Compared to last year’s end of legislative session, when Cuomo lobbied hard to legalize same-sex marriage, Cuomo backed off a bit this time. Even on the important issue of teacher evaluations, Cuomo said on Wednesday, “If the Senate or the Assembly want to pass the bill, great. If not, it will further the dialogue.”

Both the Assembly and Senate did pass a bill on Thursday that will make controversial teacher ratings available to parents, but not to the public. This is in alignment with the wishes of Cuomo and proponents of the plan, who argued that the evaluations are complex and can mislead the public.  In sharp disagreement is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported public disclosure of the ratings and recently called Cuomo’s plan “an outrage.”

On Wednesday, the legislature passed a bill that will create a new agency to manage disabled New Yorkers in state care. This follows reforms the government has implemented since The New York Times published a story over a year ago describing rampant abuse of patients within the system.

On the same day, lawmakers also passed Lauren’s Law, intended to boost organ donation in the state. The law will require people applying for drivers licenses to select “yes” or “skip this question” when prompted whether they want to become organ donors. Currently, answering the question is optional.


On the Capitol Report, Susan Arbetter reported on the passage of the teacher evaluation plan. Video courtesy of the Capitol Report

What didn’t pass?

Recently, Cuomo announced plans to decriminalize having small amounts of marijuana in public view. The issue is intrinsically linked to the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk practice, because last year police made about 50,000 misdemeanor arrests for small quantities of the drug. Though those same amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized since the 1970s, once marijuana is in “public view,” it becomes an arrestable offense, and can negatively impact the futures of those arrested; the majority of whom are young men of color. The issue of presenting the marijuana in public arises when police officers allegedly ask people — who often don’t know the law — to empty their pockets during a stop and frisk.

But as has been expected for nearly a week, open air marijuana decriminalization didn’t come to vote, because of Republicans’ concerns.

Last week, Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) said, “Being able to just walk around with 10 joints in each ear and it only be a violation, I think that’s wrong.”

On Thursday, Skelos announced that marijuana definitely wouldn’t be voted on this year, when he quipped, ““We’re going to end this session with a bang, not a bong.”

Another key issue that many hoped would come to a vote, but didn’t, is a significant increase to the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8.50. Polls show that most New Yorkers support a wage hike, but Senate Republicans expressed worry that it would have a chilling impact on job creation.

The Senate has to reconsider their opposition to what almost 80 percent of the people in the state of New York say is important to them,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Wednesday. “I think the pressure of an election [State Assembly elections are on Nov. 6, 2012] is going to make the Senate consider that bill.”


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