Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 22, 2014

Legislature session touched on medical pot, pre-K, heroin

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — New York lawmakers ended their six-month session Friday, leaving the state Capitol after having passed hundreds of bills affecting pocketbooks, schools, health care and even yogurt. 

“We made significant progress on several core issues,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told lawmakers. “There are many fights that we must and we will carry on.”

Here’s a look at what they accomplished, what they left on the table and who left the Capitol a winner:

EDUCATION

The $138 billion state budget approved by lawmakers in March contained $340 million for universal prekindergarten, with most of it going to New York City. It increased education aid by $1.1 billion overall, with increased funding for charter schools and a big focus on high-need districts. Lawmakers also voted to put a bond referendum on the November ballot authorizing $2 billion in borrowing for school facilities and classroom computers.

TAXES

Lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to use property tax credits as an incentive for cities and towns to restrain spending and encourage consolidated services. They also approved business tax changes, including property tax credits and income tax cuts for manufacturers.

HEROIN

Lawmakers passed a package of bills to combat the rise in heroin and opiate overdoses, including measures that would require insurers to better cover substance-abuse treatment, impose tougher penalties for those who distribute the drugs and boost the availability of an overdose antidote drug. Deaths from heroin overdoses in New York more than doubled, from 215 in 2008 to 478 in 2012, and lawmakers said they expect to have more work to do on the subject next year.

“Our suburban areas, our rural areas, our small towns — it’s not just an inner-city problem,” said Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Seneca County Republican.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

In one of their last acts, lawmakers struck a deal with Cuomo that would authorize qualifying patients to obtain from state-regulated dispensaries marijuana that can’t be smoked. It’s a more limited approach than those in the other 22 states that have approved programs, but Cuomo said he wanted safeguards to make sure the drug doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

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