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Capitol Watch: Votes loom on immigrant licenses, rent rules

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – In New York state government news, the Assembly plans to vote this week on legislation authorizing driver’s licenses for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.

Lawmakers are also expected to consider bills that would renew and possibly strengthen tenant protections in the New York City area.

Both issues are among the more contentious items on the agenda ahead of the Legislature’s June 19 adjournment.

Here’s a look at what’s coming up:

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LICENSES FOR IMMIGRANTS

The legislation has long been a priority for immigrant advocates and progressive groups who note that 12 other states already authorize licenses for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.

Supporters say the measure would increase road safety by ensuring more motorists are licensed to drive. They also say it’s an issue of fairness to immigrants who need to drive to get to work or day care.

“We know that immigrants are an integral thread in the fabric of our communities and our economy,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx, said in a statement.

Republicans have denounced the bill, arguing that Democrats want to incentivize law breaking. Some local county clerks have announced that they will refuse to process license applications from people who illegally entered the country.

“Anyone who is in this country illegally is breaking the law and should not be rewarded for doing so,” said Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon.

The Assembly is expected to easily pass the measure. Its fate is less certain in the Senate, where Democrats hold a smaller majority.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the legislation but isn’t optimistic about its chances of reaching his desk.

“They don’t have the votes to pass it,” he said of the Senate last week.

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RENT RENEWAL?

The law governing rent control and rent stabilization expires Saturday, giving lawmakers an opportunity to tinker with the regulations protecting millions of tenants in older, multi-unit apartment buildings in and around New York City.

The rules control how much a landlord may raise the rent and also restrict evictions.

There’s little doubt the rent law will be extended, but many Democrats also want to strengthen the rules and, potentially, extend some rental protections statewide. Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the goal is “the strongest housing protections in state history.”

The issue is a major test for Stewart-Cousins, who took over as leader this year after Democrats won the Senate majority. Progressive groups warn that they will hold lawmakers accountable for whatever rent bill they pass.

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AWAITING ACTION

Cuomo could act soon on a bill that would make New York the first state to ban the declawing of cats. The Senate and Assembly passed the proposal last week. Cuomo hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it, but animal welfare advocates are confident.

Cuomo also hasn’t acted on a bill that would give Democrats in Washington a new, and perhaps easier, path to President Donald Trump’s tax information.

The legislation doesn’t target Trump by name, but it would allow the leaders of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation to get access to any New York state tax returns filed by elected officials and top appointed officials.

Cuomo’s office says the governor supports the “principle” of the bill but will review it carefully.

As of late last week, the bill hadn’t been formally sent to Cuomo by the Legislature, which approved it last month.

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