Shambling into the legislative system. Wisping through the public consciousness. Killing trees.
They are the undead bills, measures that persist despite years or even decades of inaction.
They include proposals to institute “Colon Day,” which would allow public sector-workers a day off to be screened for colon cancer, and bills easing farm tractor rules, creating a Canadian-style health care system, even naming an official state cat.
“Why the colon cancer bill hasn’t passed, I don’t know,” said Bronx Democratic AssemblymanJeffrey Dinowitz, who has doggedly pushed the idea for more than 10 years.
Lest he get discouraged, Dinowitz can look to the efforts of fellow Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, who retired last year.
The Long Island Democrat and former lifeguard spent years trying to mandate best-if-used-by dates for sunscreen. The measure finally passed the Assembly and Senate last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December.
“Sometimes, things take a long time,” Dinowitz said.
Some of these evergreen bills are the product of idealism; others could be viewed as pandering.
Every year sees a raft of proposed pension sweeteners introduced by lawmakers who are close to public employee unions. There have been efforts to provide free train fare for commuting cops on Long Island, lowered retirement age limits for court officers, and removal of retirement contributions by public employees.
“They are driven by interest groups,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think-tank that’s a frequent critic of public-sector compensation.
Public employees are far from the only would-be recipients of the undead, or evergreen bills.
Dinowitz notes that the Democratic Assembly as a matter of course takes up legislation that would limit rent increases by apartment building owners who make improvements such as installing new boilers.
“We’ve passed bills like that every year. Those are not likely to pass the (Republican) Senate,” Dinowitz said.
On the other hand, Senate Republicans for the past four years have pushed to restore the STAR school tax rebate, which would essentially put more money in the hands of suburban homeowners.
That falls on deaf ears in the Assembly, where many Democratic lawmakers represent apartment dwellers who don’t worry about school taxes.
Even farmers have their perennial bills. The state Farm Bureau has long wanted to ease the paperwork required by the Department of Motor Vehicles for farm vehicles like tractors, but those efforts haven’t met with success.
Some of the undead bills go so far back that an electronic trail is hard to find; they must be tracked on paper.
For one of the longest-lasting undead bills — if this was a horror film, it would be down to its skeleton — consider Sen. Hugh Farley’s measure allowing New Yorkers age 60 and older to get free SUNY credits in courses where there is available classroom space.
First introduced in 1977, the bill passed but was vetoed by Gov. Hugh Carey; it was shot down a second time by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1984.
Since then, the Assembly has never passed it. Why? “I’ve gotten every kind of reason in the world,” said Farley.
This year, the Schenectady Republican found an ally in the opposite chamber, Syracuse Democrat Bill Magnarelli.
Some evergreens sprout at the local level, after municipalities pass their own fragmented versions in various sections of the state.
“We have to keep marketing these things and keep making the case,” said Jim Tedisco, a Saratoga County-area GOP Assemblyman who for the past five years has pushed for a statewide registry of animal abusers.
Those registries have been instituted in some localities, but not statewide, similar to localized efforts to fight puppy mills. Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal has promoted that issue statewide since 2008.
After years of effort, Tedisco in 1999 finally saw passage of Buster’s Law, which stiffened penalties for those convicted of hurting domestic animals.
Some evergreens can seem especially quixotic — until a change in the national mood shoves them into the realm of the possible.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, began his quest to institute single-payer health care in New York in 1992. In December, he was once again making the rounds of the state and holding hearings on the proposal.
Gottfried has seen zombie bills brought to pulsing life. His push for the legal use of medical marijuana began in 1997, and saw passage in June.
Property tax caps and the legalization of same-sex marriage died multiple deaths before receiving the governor’s signature in 2011.
“It’s kind of like fine wine,” said Tedisco. “Everything has a season.”
© 2014 Albany Times Union
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