Laws pushed under the radar

The Press-Republican on unrelated laws in the state budget

April 25

It’s just an hour.

But the state added those 60 minutes to two hours that people could already get in order to vote on election days.

Maybe a city dweller needs three hours to vote? But it seems like overkill, especially from an employer’s point of view, for the law says the boss foots the bill.

Not just state entities, over which the state, of course, should have more say.

But private employers, too.

But it’s just an hour, you say.

Those 60 minutes, though, were hidden amid budget items that legislators passed in a hurry to meet April 1 deadline.

According to Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), “… half the (budget) bills were printed Sunday and voted on in the dead of night, yet again, without time for the legislature and public to properly vet them.”

Often, laws such as the one giving workers more time off to vote find their way into the spending plan as a bargaining chip.

Several this budget season made the news because they were (and remain) controversial.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the vehicle of the budget to end cash bail for most misdemeanor charges nonviolent felonies.

Selling drugs isn’t a violent felony, we note here, but addiction kills.

And he got his way on ending the release by state agencies of most mugshots of people charged with crimes. We’ve been outspoken in opposition to that.

Some laws are tied to state finances, so it’s more understandable to see them as part of the budget.

There’s been a mixed reaction to one of them — making permanent the 2 percent cap on the property tax levy.

Others come as a surprise, after the fact.

For example, did you know there’s a law built into the budget that will make backseat seat belts mandatory for all, not just age 16 and younger?

And then there’s the time-off-to-vote amendment.

That one was buried somewhere in budget bill S1505C, Sen. Betty Little’s office told us.

When news of it surfaced some days later, the North Country business world was understandably annoyed, frustrated and even kind of outraged.

The state mandate takes money out of the pockets of small-business owners, can short them workers for as long as three hours to go vote — or maybe go home and take a nap.

Those workers don’t have to prove they voted; maybe in the next budget the state will mandate hand stamps at polling places so employees can show the boss they actually did.

Yes, that’s getting a little silly.

But what’s not silly is when laws get pushed through under the radar.

We know that happens in the regular course of legislative sessions, too.

But it seems even more inappropriate when bills that have nothing to do with spending get tacked onto budget legislation — the mugshot and bail laws especially.

Especially now, with one party in control of Albany.

Cuomo, backed by the majority of Democrats in both houses, seems lately to feel anything goes (well, except for recreational marijuana — so far).

That will take a whole lot more than an hour to sort out.

Which is a good thing. A governor shouldn’t get everything he wants.