With thunder and hail as a backdrop, elected officials and advocates held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to demand that the Republican-controlled New York State Senate go back to Albany and protect schoolchildren from speeding drivers and women’s reproductive rights from the Supreme Court of the United States.
“The lives of women and children are not pawns in a political game,” Assemblywoman Deborah Glick said, adding “She has spoken!” after an ear-splitting explosion of thunder.
Time is running out for the Senate to reconvene and save the speed cameras mounted outside New York City’s public schools. The cameras, which have been shown to reduce speeding by 63 percent and pedestrian injuries by 23 percent, will shut down in one week.
The Senate has also failed to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which advocates say is necessary to update New York’s antiquated abortion laws—terminating a pregnancy is currently part of the criminal code, and some women have to go out of state to seek later-term, potentially life-saving procedures. This situation will only get worse if the Supreme Court repeals Roe v. Wade.
“The Republicans in the Senate just will not do their jobs,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said at the press conference. “And who is hurt by this? The women of the state, who are sick and tired of men telling them they have control over their bodies.”
“Governor Cuomo and I have taken the step of calling on the New York State Senate: get back to your jobs and get the work done for the people of the state. We have called on them for days now, to say ‘Get back to Albany,’” Hochul said.
One step Governor Cuomo has so far not used: the power the state constitution gives him to order the Senate to return in an extraordinary session.
Glick said she did not support that idea.
“We’re here calling on Senator Flanagan because the Assembly has done its job,” Glick said, referring to the Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “If the governor called a special session, we would be back to June ‘18, where the same negotiating that resulted in stalemate would just begin all over again.”
The constitution allows the governor to call back either the entire legislature, “or the senate only.”
In an email, Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, said that while he wasn’t privy to the governor’s thinking, he had two hypotheses.
“One, he wants to get credit for his proposals but isn’t committed to their passage,” Muzzio said, adding that it was like a “gift to the Republicans.”
“Two, being a strategist, he’ll walk up the escalation ladder. First he asks nicely; then acts to compel.”
A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo’s office insisted that they will keep pressuring Senate Republicans to go back to Albany and vote, but that using his executive power would result in a waste of taxpayer money and cause a “circus” in Albany, without guaranteeing the passage of the legislation.
Muzzio agreed that forcing the Republicans to come back could be "an exercise in futility."
At recent appearances, Cuomo has noted that in 1970, when New York decriminalized abortion, the state had a “Republican Governor, Republican Senate, Republican Assembly.”
“And they take up a vote to legalize abortion. Why? Because the consequences of not having it legal. Woman were losing their lives,” Cuomo said at a rally last week.
It’s unclear if the rallies and press releases are working.
Asked if he saw the Senate reconvening anytime soon, Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senator Flanagan, said their office is "not contemplating it at this time."
"It's clear that Governor Cuomo and his Albany allies want to distract the public from the rampant corruption that’s sweeping through his administration," Reif said, referring to the convictions of Joseph Percoco and Alain Kalyeros.
"We were doing the people’s business when the legislative session was going on, the governor was disengaged and absent from Albany for the final three months of session, and now this is important to him?"
Reif said that Senate Republicans are "open to having discussions" about speed camera renewal, "but it never materialized during the session."
Sheri Toiv, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans and gives them their narrow majority, said the Senator had no comment. Felder has attempted to tie the money generated from the speed cameras to pay for armed guards outside of public schools. (When WNYC tracked him down at his district office last week, he declined to discuss the issue, and changed the subject to dessert.)
Brooklyn Republican Senator Marty Golden now supports the idea of the Senate reconvening to save the speed cameras after withering pressure from safe streets advocates.
"Senator Golden continues to be involved in negotiations to see a vote take place on the speed camera legislation before the July 25th expiration date,” spokesman John Quaglione said.
While the votes appear to be there for speed cameras, the votes for the Reproductive Health Act are less certain. A spokesperson for the Senate majority said some members were concerned about “non-doctors performing abortions or watering down criminal charges faced if an abuser harms a pregnant women.”
At Tuesday’s rally, Erika Christensen called those objections “straw men.”
“Anti-RHA rhetoric is about upholding power structures that deny New Yorkers our freedoms,” Christensen said.
Christensen, a patient advocate, said she was forced to terminate her pregnancy at 32 weeks, after she learned that it was not viable. She left the state to have the procedure done, and said she was “shocked to learn that in New York State, abortion is in the criminal code.”
“Conservative lawmakers believe they can ignore this problem because the people most affected suffer silently, intimidated by stigma and shame. There is no shame in demanding that we make our own medical decisions.”