Senate Republicans met on the issue today in a closed-door session. But those lengthy deliberations came as New York City's rent laws were due to expire at midnight.
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After a four hour closed door conference with his Republican colleagues, GOP Leader Dean Skelos emerged and said the discussions will continue. “The issue has not been resolved.”
Other Senators said they are still examining clauses in Governor Cuomo’s bill, which allow some exemptions for religious organizations. Some GOP Senators want the protections for religious groups to be stronger, including Senator Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island. He says he’s always been concerned about the “conscience exemption.”
“We are a country that protects religious freedom, and that must be embodied in any legislation that ever comes to the floor of this Senate,” Lanza said.
Senator Gregg Ball, of the Hudson valley, worries other services provided by religious groups, like adoption agencies, could be impacted. “Nobody wants to be in a position where we’re shutting down Catholic adoption agencies,” said Ball. “And the governor has got to, in my opinion, pay real attention to that.”
By the close of the day, no new Senators came forward to say that they were for legalizing gay marriage, though a handful say they remain undecided. The measure is at a standstill in the Senate with 31 declared in favor of same sex marriage, and 31 undecided or opposed.
The debate over gay marriage nearly overshadowed the fact that New York City’s rent laws were to expire at midnight. Senate Republicans had introduced a bill to extend the rent laws through the day Friday, but that idea was rejected by Assembly Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“This is no different than the budget,” Silver said. “If we are a functioning legislature, there is timeline here of June 15th, we should do it.”
The rent laws became entangled with a proposed 2% across-the-board property tax cap for local governments and schools. Several weeks ago, the governor and legislative leaders agreed that the two issues would be linked, and both would periodically expire on the same date.
Tenant groups have been protesting daily at the Capitol, and earlier in the week a dozen demonstrators were arrested outside the governor’s office.
As the hours passed and the governor and legislature appeared no closer to an agreement, Cuomo issued a statement that recommitted him to strengthening tenant protections in the rent laws. He said no one should be worried if the laws temporarily expire for a few days while negotiations continue, saying there will be “no short-term emergency.”
Cuomo says there is still “a full agenda” for the legislature to finish, and warns “the legislative session will not end, either through regular or special session, until the people’s business is done.”