Becoming a Lawmaker: Part 3


"Do you like boxing?" I asked Senator Sanders.

"Love boxing," he replied. "But this is more dangerous. You can strike with elbows and knees and do more damage."

The bill to legalize professional mixed martial arts in New York State was again being considered. As a member of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, the senator would cast a vote to help determine whether the legislation could proceed to the floor.

My recommendation was to support it. New York was the only place in North America where these wildly popular competitions were not allowed, and we were losing too much revenue. When the Ultimate Fighting Championship hosted an event, more than 500 hotel rooms were reportedly booked by crew members, fighters and entourages alone. This did not take into account all the money spent by fans. Why should we have continued losing out to New Jersey when promoters wanted to run Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center? As for the safety concerns, contests were highly regulated and would be overseen by the state athletic commission.

The senator was not completely sold, and later expressed his reservations in the chamber, but decided to vote Aye Without Recommendation in committee. That counted as a yes, if not an enthusiastic one, and the bill eventually became law.

Meanwhile, our Long Island Rail Road Fare Act to include Far Rockaway Station in the weekend reduced fare program was also moving. Persistence and creative thinking took the bill to the Transportation Committee agenda, which surprised even our conference.

Literally seconds before the vote, however, a left hook was thrown: the bill was flagged for the Finance Committee. This meant if it passed Transportation, it would then have to make it through Finance before it could be seen by the entire Senate. All the calls, emails and persuasion would have to be repeated.

It was said Finance was where bills were sent to die. Ostensibly, legislation approved by one committee that had a fiscal impact on the state was to be considered there. As a tactical matter, it seemed the majority used this committee to punch out bills it did not favor. We did not believe our bill should have been in Finance because there was no direct cost to the state. Their justification was reducing the train fare for Rockaway would cost the MTA, whose finances were intrinsically tied to the state's funds.

In any event, after the bill passed Transportation overwhelmingly, we were told those in charge of Finance felt intimidated by our frequent requests to put it up for a vote. My personal sense was some in Albany feared what they perceived to be New York City aggression from our side. Perhaps they could not relate to the experience of living in a transit desert.

Amid this frustration, an opportunity arose. Another of our bills, requiring police reports of missing adults, had passed both houses the previous year but was vetoed over technical issues. When I arrived in the Senate, I reviewed the veto memo, considered how it could be rewritten and worked with stakeholders on a new version. This, too, was now sitting in the Finance Committee.

The tenacious Dr. Arnita Fowler, whose son's disappearance and death inspired the idea, visited Albany to make her emotional plea. I joined her at this meeting, and additionally had the pleasure of witnessing Senator Sanders' leadership among his colleagues. If they were determined to keep one bill blocked, we would use it as leverage to advance another.

Our approach worked. The missing adults bill made it through Finance, at which time the chairwoman shot the senator a thumbs up accompanied by a nod and a smile. Standing in the back of the room, I suppressed a laugh. I envisioned her saying in her head, "Okay, you got one. Will you downstate lunatics stop harassing us now?"

In light of what happened in Howard Beach last summer, I was especially proud when Governor Cuomo signed the missing adults bill into law. Previously, reports were only mandated for missing children and vulnerable adults. Now every person is covered, including all adults when there is a reasonable concern for their safety.

I returned to Queens grateful for the experience, knowing my role in the state's legislative activities was not insignificant. The process of making laws is not a pretty one, but it requires a certain skill and finesse and willingness to keep fighting. I can confidently say the bruises I suffered were worthwhile as I learned my way around the ring.

Or the octagon, as it were.


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