Powerful Senate Conference Pressured on Women's Rights, Campaign Finance

11:00 PM, Jun 10, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY, NY--  Women's rights groups and campaign-finance advocates are putting pressure on the four-member Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate, saying the small but powerful conference holds the key to the end of the legislative session.

Proponents for public financing of campaigns want the IDC to push for a vote in the Senate before session ends June 20. Women's groups want the IDC to call for a vote on a 10-point women's rights agenda that includes strengthening abortion laws in New York.

The IDC includes Sens. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who represents parts of Westchester County, and David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County. In January, the IDC teamed up with the 30-member Republican Conference to share power and control of what bills come to the floor for a vote, spurning the Democrats that won a majority in last year's election.

Now the IDC is under pressure from left-leaning groups to make good on its promises that it could forward a progressive agenda in the 63-member Senate.

In a full-page advertisement Monday in The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc., publication, an array of public campaign finance supporters said the IDC's coalition with Republicans will be remembered for "obstructing good legislation and enabling partisan gridlock" if a reform package isn't put to a vote.

"It is wrong to give any conference or legislative leader the power to protect the status quo and prevent voting on an essential reform," reads the letter, which was funded by the Brennan Center for Justice, a good-government group. "This is particularly so during a period of record corruption, when reform has the support of a majority of officeholders and the public."

The letter was signed by various groups pushing for the creation of a publicly funded option for financing campaigns, similar to the one used in New York City. In the city, small donations are matched at a 6-to-1 rate if a candidate opts to use the system.

The advertisement also ran in Monday's Staten Island Advance; Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member, represents parts of Staten Island. The fourth member is Sen. David Valesky of the Syracuse area.

Women's rights groups are holding a news conference at the Capitol on Monday to call on the IDC to advance Gov. Andrew Cuomo's women's rights legislation. It includes additional workplace protections for women and codifying the federal Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion into state law.

Monday is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Equal Pay Act, and the women's groups are calling on Klein to press for a vote on the women's agenda.

"Senator Klein needs to be reminded that as a leader, he cannot hold up the Women's Equality Act for the women (and men) of New York," the groups said Monday on their Facebook page. "Call him now, and tell him to pass the Women's Equality Act."

The IDC members have defended its role, saying they support abortion rights but there isn't enough vote among the Republican and Democratic conferences.

"Sadly, it is the Senate Democrats' own lack of unity on women's health issues that would cause the failure of any Senate vote on women's reproductive rights," IDC spokesman Eric Soufer said in a statement Friday.

Includes reporting by Albany Bureau staff writer Jon Campbell.

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