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Still elusive on pot, NY lawmakers on final voting frenzy

“We call on you to bring marijuana justice to New York"

June 18, 2019 - 8:06 pm

ALBANY, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — Top lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo have struck a deal on legislation setting new targets for reducing carbon emissions just days before the Legislature plans to adjourn for the year.

Negotiations on proposals to legalize marijuana, however, continued with little sign of progress Tuesday, but lawmakers and Cuomo said they were still working to find a compromise.

Here’s a look at where things stand as lawmakers try to wrap up their work:

MARIJUANA: The session’s biggest issue is going down to the wire as lawmakers seek a compromise that can pass both chambers and win Cuomo’s signature.

There’s broad support for legalization in both the Senate and Assembly, but several unresolved issues could prevent lawmakers from voting on pot before they adjourn.

They include debates over expunging decades of past criminal records of people charged with pot possession and whether communities disproportionately impacted by decades of the war on drugs should get a greater share of funding from pot taxes. Another question involves whether counties (or possibly cities and towns) should be allowed to opt out of hosting a pot dispensary, or whether local communities should instead have to opt in.

Lawmakers have crafted different bills in the hopes of striking the right compromise. But so far, no one proposal seems to be gaining traction. Lawmakers had planned to adjourn Wednesday, but could stay later in the week if they believe they’re close to a deal that could pass.

“Different people think different things on the number of members who are ready to support it,” Cuomo said on public radio Tuesday morning.

A bill unveiled earlier this week takes a more minimalistic approach by proposing to eliminate most remaining criminal penalties for personal pot possession and use. That measure also includes a provision allowing people with pot arrests on their record to seek expungement. But expungement wouldn’t be automatic.

That idea was quickly rejected by a coalition of groups pushing for a more comprehensive legalization bill, including Citizen Action of New York, the Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY and the Working Families Party.

“We call on you to bring marijuana justice to New York state by passing comprehensive legislation that legalizes marijuana, creates an equitable and well-regulated industry, provides for automatic expungement and reinvests funds in communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition,” the group wrote in a joint statement.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Under the agreement worked out by lawmakers and Cuomo, the state would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 and set aside funds for communities hit hard by climate change.

While Cuomo has already used his executive power to set some of the strongest renewable energy goals in the nation, the proposal before lawmakers would codify the targets in state law. It would also create intermediate-term targets and require regular progress reports. The sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Long Island Democrat Todd Kaminsky, said those provisions are essential if the state is to meet the 2050 goal.

“I’m convinced that the lofty goals we’re setting we can reach,” he said.

The bill would also set aside state funding for communities hit hard by floods, severe storms or other impacts of climate change.

SURROGACY: Supporters are worried a proposal to legalize paid surrogacy, in which a woman is paid to carry the child of another couple or individual, may not get a final vote before lawmakers adjourn.

The measure has already passed the state Senate and is one of Cuomo’s top priorities for the rest of the session. But it hasn’t been scheduled for a vote in the Assembly, where some Democrats have expressed concerns about the bill.

Currently New York is one of only two states to expressly outlaw paid surrogacy. Many same-sex and infertile couples have urged lawmakers to repeal the ban, which they said forces them to go to other states to find a surrogate. The legislation would also create surrogacy regulations including requirements that the surrogate have her own independent legal representation.

Opponents include feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who in a letter to lawmakers argued the bill would exploit women and commercialize their reproductive systems.

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