This week from Albany and Washington…

The White House and Congress reached an agreement to temporarily fund the federal government giving the sides three more weeks to negotiate over immigration and the President’s border wall. State Senator Tom O’Mara put himself in the middle of a fight over pay for lawmakers. The Assembly passed landmark reproductive rights and education reform legislation.  

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (125th Assembly District)

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton missed voting in Albany as she welcomed her fifth grandchild into the world. Despite her absence, the chamber did pass a number of bills in the area of women’s health and education.

One of the most prominent of these was the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies the legality of abortion under Roe v. Wade into New York state law. It also moves language about abortion out of the penal code and into the Public Health Law.

“I consider reproductive rights to be matters of basic human rights – the right of free people to make their own moral and religious decisions about these important and private matters,” Lifton wrote in a newsletter last week.

In addition to the codification of Roe v. Wade, the legislature also passed a bill mandating employers to cover contraception under health plans and also banned them from discriminating against employees over reproductive health decisions.

One piece of education legislation cosponsored by Lifton, a former teacher, is also making its way to the Governor’s desk. The Principal and Teacher Evaluation Bill removes the requirement that standardized tests be associated with evaluating these figures.

The Legislature in Albany also passed the Dream Act last week, which would extend state-funded college financial assistance programs to all applicants regardless of their immigration status.

State Senator Tom O’Mara (58th N.Y. Senate District)

Sen. Tom O’Mara unmasked himself as the previously unknown state senator who asked for an opinion from the state board of elections that will allow legislators to use campaign donations to sue the state’s compensation commission. That commission was authorized by the Legislature to grant lawmakers a pay increase. In addition to doing that they also formally recommended barring the lawmakers from making almost any income outside their state salary. This has sat the wrong way with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who assert that the pay commission overstepped its charge.

O’Mara’s move to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds to sue the commission (with the goal of ultimately reversing the outside-income decision) gives opponents of the decision a legal war chest.

“The Board of Elections opinion is therefore welcome and clearly opens an avenue for legislators like myself to consider and possibly more fully pursue a legal challenge,” O’Mara wrote in a release Sunday.

O’Mara joined Senate Republicans in opposing the Reproductive Health Act, calling the expansion of abortion rights “extreme” in a tweet Tuesday.

The Senate also passed legislation that would cap the annual property tax rise each year. The bill has wide bipartisan support in the Senate, but it could be held up in the Assembly. Some education advocates argue against capping the tax increases because they’re a line of income.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

Congress and the White House came to an agreement to temporarily reopen the government Friday. The move ends the government shutdown, allowing all federal employees to return to work, and quickly receive the two paychecks they had missed. President Trump is still not backing down on his demand for border wall funding. Congressional leaders and the President will have until Feb. 15 to make a plan.

Rep. Reed is moving up in leadership ranks. He’s been appointed as ranking member, the minority equivalent of a chairperson, to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.

He also voted in favor of a resolution which passed the House last week that would reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand & U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

The U.S. Senate attempted two Hail Mary bills to permanently reopen the government Thursday. One piece of legislation included funding for a southern border wall while also extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and extending temporary legal status for certain immigrants. The opposing Democratic plan removed the provision for the proposed southern border wall and specifically noted that no funds would be used in such a manner. The proposal with wall funding failed 50-47 and the measure without funding failed 52-44. Both Senators Gillibrand and Schumer voted against the Republican plan and in favor of the Democratic proposal.

Sen. Gillibrand introduced legislation this week aimed at expanding the tax credit for families using child care amid rising costs and demand for such services.

The Senate only held votes on Thursday and Friday last week amid the shutdown negotiations and Monday’s federal holiday to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Gillibrand, who is campaigning for President, did not miss any votes.

Catch up on past editions of Capitol Watch below:

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...