While trying to wind up their legislative session for the summer and enact a roughly $130 billion state budget, New York lawmakers have been delving into everything from baby bottles to heating oil, from bullying and sex trafficking to bedbugs, passing several measures that await Gov. David Paterson's signature.
Both the Senate and Assembly have voted to reduce sulfur content in home heating oil, reinforce school mandates against bullying and expunge the criminal records of those forced into sex trafficking.
In the last-minute legislative crush, they also agreed to ban the plastic Bisphenol A from children's cups and baby bottles and require more merchant disclosures in rent-to-own agreements. They would also permit the State Liquor Authority to revoke the liquor license from an establishment with six or more police referrals for noise or disorder incidents within a 60-day period.
Measures that advanced so far through only one house would exclude many juveniles from sex-crime prosecutions for "sexting" each other, require registration of debt collectors, legalize mixed martial arts and outlaw disseminating so-called "crush videos" involving stepping on small animals. Also pending are bills to legalize medical marijuana and outlaw indoor tanning by minors.
The requirement for No. 2 home heating oil starting July 1, 2012, would limit permissible sulfur content to 15 parts per million, similar to the federal standard for vehicle diesel fuel.
Advocates, including the American Lung Association and the Environmental Defense Fund, said the reduction by up to 1,000 percent will reduce soot and cut sulfur dioxide emissions. Several upstate senators argued the additional refining will drive up homeowners' price for oil and could cause shortages. The bill would enable the governor to suspend the requirement if insufficient fuel is available.
The anti-bullying bill would require school districts to take steps to establish environments free of discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender and report annually to the state incidents at school grounds or functions.
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, in his sponsor's memo, said the new measure doesn't override existing laws or state regulations against discrimination. He noted a 2005 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that found 39 percent of New York students reported bullying, name calling and harassment were a serious problem at school, most commonly for appearance, with 66 percent saying that kind of harassment happened at least sometimes.
The sex-trafficking bill would allow those coerced into commercial sex to have prostitution convictions expunged from their records. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said criminal records currently have to be disclosed to employers and block people from getting decent jobs and rebuilding their lives.
Both houses passed the bill to end the sale of baby bottles, pacifiers, sippy cups and straws that contain Bisphenol A starting Dec. 1. Advocates said New York would be the seventh state to do that. BPA is used to make a rigid polycarbonate plastics.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says general exposure comes from eating or drinking from containers with BPA, the human health effects from low-level exposures are unknown and need more research, while exposure has been shown to affect the reproductive health of laboratory animals.
On Thursday, both houses passed legislation to require New York City landlords furnish each tenant signing a lease with a written notice of the apartment's and building's bedbug infestation in the prior year.
Supporters said they expect Paterson to sign several of those bills soon heading to his desk. Spokeswoman Jessica Basset said Friday he will review them and solicit input from stakeholders on both sides before deciding.