Now six days into legislative overtime, the New York State Assembly once again put off voting on mixed martial arts sanctioning today, which means our beloved, cherished, pined-for, star-crossed MMA bill is just barely hanging on.
There’s a feeling of madness and energy in the air in Albany as the New York State Legislature scrambles to polish off their lingering 2015 session. And while it looks like the Democratic-run Assembly and the Republican-run Senate have a long last come to something like an agreement over several of the most pressing issues facing the state, it very much remains to be seen if they’ll be able to come to an agreement over the only-slightly-less-than-most-pressing issue facing the state: the legalization of mixed martial arts. Or if they’ll even have a chance to.
As this story goes up, we’re still not entirely sure if and when the pro-MMA bill put up by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle will make it to the floor of the Assembly. It definitely didn’t happen today, though for a while there, there was hope (there’s always hope). It could happen tomorrow, or, if the legislature decides to come back Thursday, it could happen then. Or it could never happen at all. What we do know is that today, Tuesday, at about 1:30pm, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan at least cleared the way for a possible MMA debate, announcing a sweeping agreement “in concept” that, if it passes, would take care of a lot of the big issues that have been clogging up the calendar, from the extension of rent regulations to money for charter schools, from mayoral control of city schools to a cap on property taxes and the housing of underage convicts. We don’t know about any of that, but we do know that such a deal going through would open a huge door for the MMA bill to walk through, straight onto the floor of the New York Assembly, which fans have been dreaming about for six years.
But politics being politics, there’s no guarantee the Cuomo/Heastie/Flanagan deal will even get voted on. Not an hour after the press conference, Heastie was preaching caution, saying, “We still have a lot of negotiation to do on some of the details” with the conference’s rank and file. An hour after that, it was announced that the legislative session was done for the day and would reconvene tomorrow morning.
So at the moment we’re back to doing what New York MMA fans do best: waiting. As the two leaders were briefing their conferences and trying to whip them into voting shape, we were staring hopefully at a live-video feed of the State Assembly floor. Or rather we were staring at what should have been a live-video feed of the State Assembly floor but which was actually just a still-shot of the state seal accompanied by some mocking piano music.
Sitting there gave us time to wonder if time and math are really on our side. At this point there’s no telling how long it will be before the Assembly gets to the MMA bill or if all those deadline extensions and late-night sessions will finally do in a tired and frustrated membership and the thing will get tabled for another year. The terrible thing is that the longer this thing drags on the more likely it is that the number of pro-MMA Democratic Assembly members available to vote will decrease. In terms of Democratic votes, the MMA bill has always something of a leaky boat—a coalition held together by string. Any minute now it could start sinking.
For example, rumors have been going around that at least one pro-MMA member of the Democratic conference has hip surgery scheduled for later this week. Another has a spouse who has surgery scheduled this week as well. There’s no guarantee either will even be around Albany after today, much less available to vote.
And then there’s Assemblyman Sam Roberts. Roberts is a huge fan of the MMA bill. He’s a martial arts guy. Back in the 1980s the Syracuse Democrat appeared on the cover of Karate Illustrated magazine, black belt around his waist, right fist forward. In fact, the eighth-degree American Shotokan black belt was so good, he was offered a role in the 80s kung-fu masterpiece The Last Dragon starring Bruce Leroy but turned it down when he decided he couldn’t leave his job in Syracuse to move to Hollywood. So Roberts is down with the cause.
Unfortunately he was confirmed just last Wednesday as commissioner of the Office of Temporary Assistance and Disability, which oversees the state’s welfare cases. That means at some point he’ll have to step down as assemblyman, which means starting very soon he won’t be voting on anything. The question, of course, is: When exactly is soon? We spoke to a representative in Roberts’ office and not even he knew when the Assemblyman will be making the move. But it just goes to show you that you can’t rely on anyone in the last tenuous, clock-ticking, vote-counting days of a New York legislative session.
Considering Democratic Majority Leader Joseph Morelle has spent most of the last few weeks bending and twisting and distorting his MMA bill in an effort to secure the last few votes he needs from squeamish Democratic colleagues and get the stupid thing to the floor of the Assembly, we have to assume that even a few missing votes could damn MMA to illegality for yet another year. If that happens we have only hips and welfare recipients and rent regulations and the American political system and ourselves—the voters—to blame.
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