ALBANY — The New York State Legislature abruptly adjourned for the night late Thursday without voting on any of the highest-profile measures before it, including same-sex marriage.Two days after announcing an agreement on capping property taxes and expanding rent-control regulations in New York City, lawmakers have yet to agree on the fine print. All day Thursday, legislative leaders said they would work through the night to finish their business, but at 11 p.m., the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said differences over reducing the costs of state regulation on local governments had held up talks.
The fate of same-sex marriage remained uncertain; the senators left for the night without deciding whether to hold a vote, but were scheduled to return at 10 a.m. Friday. Thirty-one of the 62 members of the Senate, including two Republicans, support legalizing same-sex marriage, but one more vote would be needed for the bill to pass. Some Senate Republicans would prefer not to vote on the issue at all, and it remained possible that the Legislature would adjourn for the year without taking it up.
While much was left unresolved, lawmakers did wade into two of the most controversial issues facing the government: President Obama’s overhaul of the health care system and the state’s rising pension costs. Lawmakers in the Democratic-led Assembly, with the backing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, passed a central provision of Mr. Obama’s health care plan, a measure aimed at providing coverage to uninsured New Yorkers. But the Senate unexpectedly decided on Thursday night not to take up the measure. Instead, the Senate passed a bill to let school districts borrow up to $1 billion over the next 15 years to delay their contributions to the teachers’ pension system for the next two years, a move that was assailed by a major budget watchdog. The Assembly was weighing the measure, but it was unclear if it would act before leaving town. “We’re experiencing a spike right now,” Senator Jack M. Martins, a Nassau County Republican, said. “My question is, Why are we asking our school districts to have to pay out of pocket over the next two years to compensate for this spike when these costs are going to come back down?” But Edmund J. McMahon, a director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a research group that favors reduced government spending, called it “an egregious fiscal abuse.” “It’s a complete outrage that they did this,” he said, adding, “It’s basically taking rising costs and pushing them off into the future.” Bills passed in the last week by both houses included a plan to move the state’s presidential primary to April 24 from Feb. 5, and change it from a winner-take-all primary for Republicans to one in which delegates would be divided among participating candidates. Others included establishing concussion treatment rules for student athletes and requiring insurers to cover autism spectrum disorders. And as usual, there was no shortage of eccentric measures on the table. In recent weeks, legislators approved a bill requiring that a notice be printed on the packaging of baby bottles and sippy cups warning of the risk of early childhood tooth decay. They forbade the possession or sale of bear gallbladder or bile. They created a state commission to plan events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. And they finalized a ban on the sale of so-called smoking paraphernalia — including hookahs, water pipes and vaporizers — to anyone under age 18. Lawmakers were pressing to conclude the 2011 legislative session on Friday, but it was unclear if they would have to extend their session further; it had been scheduled to conclude on June 20. “This is the wrap-up time,” Mr. Skelos said Thursday after emerging from a meeting with Governor Cuomo. “Everything is on track in terms of rent control, property tax cap, mandate relief. It’s really finalizing some of the technical language.” Many of the bills are being studied by the governor’s office, and he must now decide whether to sign or veto them. The health care bill, which Mr. Cuomo’s office drafted, would create what is known as a health care exchange — a marketplace where the uninsured and small businesses could buy coverage from a menu of options with varying costs. By passing the law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014, the state will also be eligible for millions of dollars in federal aid to develop the exchange. The floor debate in the Legislature echoed the national political jousting over the Obama health plan, which has been put at risk by recent federal court rulings. “In the last election, Obamacare was rejected by the people,” said Assemblyman Al Graf, a Long Island Republican, using a favorite term in his party for the president’s health plan. “Now that Obamacare is being challenged in the Supreme Court, through this legislation, a majority is attempting to give us backdoor Obamacare in anticipation of being found unconstitutional in the federal court.” Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, a Rochester Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement that he hoped the health care exchange would “become a comprehensive, effective and lasting way to ensure the availability of health care insurance for all of our residents.” Blair Horner, a vice president at the American Cancer Society, said the success of the measure depended on oversight of the exchange by the board of a new public authority to keep it free of conflicts. “The legislation does not explicitly prohibit participation on the board of those who have financial skin in the game,” Mr. Horner said, , adding that the governor should be mindful of conflicts when making appointments. In moving the state’s presidential primary, lawmakers bowed to new rules drafted by the national political parties, as well as a move by the Republican Party away from a winner-take-all system. “We want as many candidates to come up and campaign in New York as possible, and this will attract them, because they can always get a vote,” said Edward F. Cox, the chairman of the Republican Party of New York State. The Legislature also voted to require insurance companies to provide coverage for screening and treating people with autism spectrum disorders, with methods including behavioral health treatments as well as speech, occupational and physical therapy. Twenty-five other states already have a similar requirement for insurers, lawmakers said. Lawmakers approved legislation requiring the state to establish rules for treatment and monitoring of students who suffer concussions in athletic contests or practices. Under the new law, student-athletes who are believed to have suffered a concussion would have to be immediately removed from play, and not be allowed to return to athletic activities until they had been symptom-free for at least 24 hours and cleared by a doctor. The Senate and the Assembly also passed legislation to crack down on drivers who use electronic devices while at the wheel. The Legislature first banned texting while driving two years ago, but under the current law, the police can pull over only drivers who are caught committing other motor vehicle infractions while using an electronic device. The new law would make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning the police could pull over drivers simply because they were fiddling with hand-held electronics. But unlike a proposal by the governor earlier this month, which would have increased the penalty for distracted driving to three points on a driver’s license from two points, the bill approved by the Legislature would not toughen the penalties for texting at the wheel.
|State Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, left, debating in favor of a bill that would establish a health benefit exchange.|