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Senate mess frustrates Assembly members

Brooklyn’s Assemblymembers are eagerly waiting for the State Senate to come to a resolution and begin debating a number of bills that could have a profound impact on the daily lives of their constituents back home.

“I’m hoping that the other house gets their act together, though I doubt they will [consider my bills],” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Joan Millman, who represents Bay Ridge, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. “If the Senate does meet in session this week, they’re going to do the bills that have to do with revenue and sunset at the end of the month.”

Though legislation that could legalize gay marriage and renew mayoral control are getting much attention in Albany, Millman’s women and minority−owned business, Assemblymember Joseph Lentol’s criminal justice, and Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s (who represents North Brooklyn) housing reform bills may all have to wait until senators negotiate a power−sharing agreement to conduct official business or when the legislation session resumes in January 2010. Whichever comes first.

After finally advancing the Rockefeller Drug Law reform package, Lentol, who represents Fort Greene, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, hoped that a series of criminal justice bills would become law too, but Rockefeller was the only one that was passed.

“We’ve had a package of bills that we’ve been pushing for a couple of years to prevent wrongful convictions which have to do with reforming the way we use DNA,” said Amy Cleary, a spokesperson for Lentol. “We really felt that this year we had a really good chance to make sure that that happened.

Lopez has been calling for meaningful rent control bills for the past five years and the Assembly passed ten housing bills earlier in the session. As the city’s Rent Guidelines Board passed increases of three percent for one−year leases and six percent two−year leases for apartments under rent control, Lopez’s housing bills are treading water, though Governor David Paterson added them to his agenda in the State Senate’s extraordinary session late Tuesday night.

This spring, Millman co−sponsored a training and education program giving women mentors across several fields of business and a contractor utilization bill for women and minority−owned businesses. Neither bill, along with a state liquor authority bill that mandates entrances for liquor stores and bars to be at minimum 200 feet away from schools and churches and one requiring seasonally−appropriate housing for pets, has been taken up by the Senate despite passing the Assembly this term.

“We worked until after 2 a.m. last night, and passed four different calendars worth of bills,” said Millman. “They’re sitting in a box somewhere waiting to be brought over into the Senate. I don’t know who you would give it to now. At this point in time, there doesn’t appear to be anybody in charge.”

Even though the Assembly is in session, the possibility exists that legislators will get called back to Albany to work on conference committees as the Senate sorts its agenda out. With Governor David Paterson threatening to call the Senators back to the Capitol for every day through the Fourth of July, assemblymembers know that their summer vacation may be cut short.

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