ALBANY- The New York Senate finished their six-month session Friday after adjourning earlier in the morning with plans to come back later to wrap up the final vote on medical marijuana.
The medical marijuana bill - passed by both the Assembly and the Senate - came as a result of a compromise between lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Compassionate Care Act only allows for limited use under the supervision of a doctor to help ease the suffering of the seriously ill. Sen. Cathy Young, R,C,I-Olean, opposes the full legalization of marijuana but voted in favor of the medical marijuana bill.
"It has many safeguards in place, so I felt the right thing to do was to vote for it," she said.
The medical marijuana bill, along with the heroin proposal and the teacher evaluation bill, were Cuomo's top priorities for the final days of the session.
"(The heroin bills) were actually Senate-initiative," said Young. Young said she served on the task force that traveled across the state. "We had our own forum locally, and it was historic because it was a joint forum with the Seneca Nation of Indians. We had many people from the region who are experts in treatment and addiction, law enforcement, and people who have suffered from heroin themselves or their family members have actually passed away from heroin overdoses. It provided us with invaluable information."
The forum resulted in a package of 11 bills, all of which were passed in the Senate and the Assembly. Young said this encouraged her due to the heroin and opioid problem spreading to every corner of the state. This bill includes: requirements for insurance companies to better cover substance-abuse treatment, public awareness campaigns, harsher penalties for illegal drug distribution, and for every anti-overdose kit, which contains naloxone, to include an information card on how to administer the drug ad how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose.
Lawmakers also put into place some adjustments to teacher evaluations due to Common Core.
"There have been a lot of concerns about Common Core across the state from parents, students and teachers," Young said. The bill provides prevention measures for teachers deemed "ineffective" or "developing" from facing termination or denial of tenure based solely on student test scores for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
Young succeed in passing 65 of her bills and remains excited for several other initiatives. Some of these bills include the expansion of telehouse and telemedicine, transportation for people with developmental disabilities and the ensured treatment plans for dangerous parolees with mental illness.
Other high-profile bills managed to miss the final cut, including those that would raise the minimum wage, extend financial aid to students in the country illegally and create broad public campaign financing.
"Taxpayer funded campaigns are very unpopular across the state. Most taxpayers do not want their hard-earned tax dollars to going to fund the campaigns of politicians to pay for robocalls or negative advertising," Young said in regards to the broad public campaign financing. "I strongly oppose taxpayer funded campaigns. Their money could be much better spent going towards education or healthcare or tax relief."
Young also opposes the extension of financial aid to students in the country illegally.
"Families all over the state are struggling to afford the dream of a college education. Most of taxpayers in my district do not want their taxpayer dollars going to fund someone who is in the country illegally," she said.