Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his third State of the State message Wednesday asked lawmakers to help him “stop the madness,” and pass tough new anti gun legislation. Cuomo also focused on changes to better prepare for future "superstorms" and to approve a new women’s equality act.
Gun control measures were front and center at the State of the State, with Cuomo asking lawmakers to help him pass the toughest anti-gun laws in the nation -- including closing loopholes in the state’s assault weapons ban, cracking down on illegal guns, and strengthening the state’s mental health laws that require involuntary treatment. The governor, who himself owns a shotgun, says all are “common sense measures.”
“Forget the extremists, it’s simple,” Cuomo said. “No one hunts with an assault rifle, no one needs ten bullets to kill a deer, and too many innocent people have died already.”
The governor also proposed numerous steps to respond to climate change, and the frequent major storms that he says are the result. Cuomo wants to better coordinate and prepare emergency responders, make New York City's subway system and fuels delivery system “flood proof,” and better regulate electric utilities.
The governor railed against the federal government’s response so far to disaster aid after Superstorm Sandy, saying the initial $9 billion approved for all states effected is too little too late and called the delays in Congress an unprecedented lack of response.
“Do not play politics with the state of New York,” Cuomo warned. “Because New York will not forget, I promise you.”
The governor also proposed a public campaign financing system, based on New York City’s model, and he wants greater disclosure of donors to new Super PACs that currently use not-for-profit loopholes to hide contributors’ identities .
Cuomo wants to raise the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour, more than even advocates have called for, saying New York’s current rate “doesn’t’ add up.”
Cuomo also focused on education issues, saying schools can opt to have a longer school day, or a longer school year, and the state will foot the bill. He also called for a bar exam for teachers, and all day pre-kindergarten.
Economic development initiatives include expanding casino gambling, starting with three upstate, and a marketing plan for New York produced food and beverages, as well as the creation of some tax-free business zones.
There was no mention in the speech of hydrofracking as an economic development plan. The governor has said his agency will decide whether to allow the gas drilling process by late February. Outside the speech, hundreds of anti-fracking activists demonstrated, and chanted, “ban fracking now.”
Legislative leaders praised the speech, and say they are close to an agreement on one of the governor’s top priorities -- gun control legislation.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says he hopes to wrap up what he calls "fruitful” discussions shortly. When asked whether a strengthened ban on assault weapons would be part of the deal, Skelos said, “Everyone has their own priorities... the Senate believes you have to go after illegal guns, increase the penalties.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’s asked his assembly members to be prepared to remain in Albany this week, in case there’s an agreement that could be voted on.
The Speaker says he agrees with most of the governor’s ideas. But Silver, who was an early advocate for expanded pre-kindergarten cautioned that schools might not have the room.
“The reason that many districts limit the amount of pre-K that they offer is that they don’t have the money to pay for the physical facilities,” Silver said.
Cuomo’s more than an hour-long speech included numerous other initiatives, but he might have received the most applause when he announced a women’s equality act that, among other things, would codify abortion rights in state statute.
“Because it’s her body, her choice,” Cuomo shouted, as many in the audience cheered.
Cuomo, who says he was influenced by his three daughters, also wants a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment and pay equity.