ALBANY, N.Y. — Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton said she is leaning towards backing an Assembly bill to end religious exemptions for vaccines after weighing her stance on the legislation for the past few weeks. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is now joining calls for impeachment proceedings following the public statements by special counsel Robert Mueller last week. The House couldn’t pass a disaster aid package while lawmakers were on recess but will revisit the legislation soon.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (125th Assembly District) & Senator Tom O’Mara (58th Senate District)

The New York Legislature is moving into its last three weeks of session for 2019. Lawmakers are rallying to try and push through a few more initiatives before they call it quits for the year, but tension with Gov. Andrew Cuomo is mounting.

Vaccination Religious Exemptions

Lawmakers have been debating legislation that would prevent individuals from forgoing vaccinations by claiming a religious exemption. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she has the support of enough legislators to pass the bill in her chamber. It’s unclear whether the bill in the Assembly, carried by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Manhattan), would be cleared for a floor vote by party leaders.

Assemblywoman Lifton has been weighing the issue over the last few weeks, reviewing the issues and speaking with constituents on various issues including “anti-vaxxers,” school board members and concerned parents.

“I’m concerned that what certainly appears to be, what seems to me and to many people, like an abuse of the religious exemption clause in our- when you get down to places where there’s 60 percent immunization, you have to say ‘is that all religious exemption, that that’s all people who religious doctrine says you can’t be vaccinated?’ So I’ve been really concerned about all of that,” she told The Ithaca Voice.

“Honestly, at this point, I’m so concerned about all the people taking the exemption. Everything I’ve learned on the issue, let’s put it that way, you know I’m leaning frankly towards supporting the Dinowitz bill.”

Sen. Tom O’Mara didn’t return a request for comment on the legislation.

Electric Bicycles & Scooters

With the growing popularity of public electric bicycles and scooters, like Ithaca’s Lime Bikes, Democratic legislators are poised to shift authority for regulating these services onto municipalities. That would allow towns and cities like Ithaca to have control over bike sharing programs, including the nuisance and risks the come with such programs. Last week, the New York Conference of Mayors backed the legislation.

Lifton currently co-sponsors a different but similar bill that would just legalize electric bicycles, but she told The Ithaca Voice that she would support either piece of legislation.

“I’m certainly happy to support those efforts that my municipalities, in this case really the City of Ithaca, would like me to support and try to move this issue along.”

She also added that she’s expecting to hear from city leaders sometime this week on the state legislation.

Marijuana Legalization

The Legislature is still considering the legalization of marijuana after what’s been a year of ups and downs for the proposal. Cuomo surprised lawmakers by including it in his criminal justice agenda announced at the beginning of the year. The Legislature bucked him, pulling the legislation out of budget proceedings. Now both chambers have amended their previous legislation in hopes they might forge a compromise in the next few weeks.

The newly revised bill would expunge any previous marijuana possession charges from criminal records, further heighten taxes on recreational pot and allocate additional funding for training police officers to spot drivers under the influence.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Watkins Glen with Reed last week, visiting a local winery and discussing federal policy as it relates to area farmers. Reed said most of the discussion revolved around the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the updated version of NAFTA.

“Today’s conversation brought to light many of the issues facing the farmers we care about along with the need for Nancy Pelosi to bring the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada to a floor for a vote. Together with Secretary Perdue, we will continue to be a loud voice in Washington for hardworking farmers who contribute so much to our economy.”

The White House signaled last week that the formal USMCA agreement will be coming to Congress to be approved shortly — setting up a potentially bitter fight with House Democrats hoping to use the agreement as a bartering chip.

The House tried twice last week to pass a $19.1 billion dollar aid package for hurricane and flooding relief in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and states along the Mississippi River. Lawmakers were technically been on recess last week, so House leadership tried to pass the measure through unanimous consent while only a few legislators were in the chamber. Several Republicans came back to Washington to object to the proposal under the grounds that it should be subject to a traditional roll call vote. That vote is being teed up for sometime this week.

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

Gillibrand and several of her Democratic colleagues in the Senate penned a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week requesting changes to aid programs the department has rolled out in response to the ongoing trade war with China. The aid programs are designed to let the U.S. government subsidize purchases of commodities produced by American farmers that have been the target of retaliatory tariffs from China. Gillibrand, as she writes, is opposed to the USDA sponsoring theses purchases by foreign firms.

“It is counterproductive and contradictory for these companies to receive assistance paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to help American farmers struggling with this Administration’s trade policy,” Gillibrand writes in her letter to Perdue.

Gillibrand also changed her stance on impeachment proceedings for President Trump following special counsel Robert Mueller’s public remarks last Tuesday. She was previously in favor of continuing other forms of oversight in order to build the case to begin a formal impeachment proceeding.

Robert Mueller clearly expects Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and take steps that he could not,” Gillibrand tweeted. “We can’t let the president defy basic accountability measures built into our Constitution.

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...