As Cuomo prepares 'State' speech, NY lawmakers buckle down on gun controls

A deal could soon make New York one of the first states to pass gun control laws following the Dec. 14 shooting in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down with a powerful weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Mike Groll/AP
Freshman Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, walks outside the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol on Tuesday, in Albany, N.Y. The legislative session starts on Wednesday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address.

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to push his 2013 agenda in his State of the State speech Wednesday, legislators are working overtime behind closed doors to reach agreement on his demand for tighter controls on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

A deal could soon make New York one of the first states to pass gun control laws following the Dec. 14 shooting in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down with a powerful weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

New York's effort was hastened further by the Christmas Eve killings of two firefighters in western New York by a man who set his neighborhood on fire, lay in wait with a high-powered rifle for responders, shot them and killed himself.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Sen. Martin Golden agreed Wednesday that closed-door talks about brought all sides to within 95 percent of a deal, which could be announced and acted on this week.

"New York leads the nation; it's time New York lead the nation in this," Silver said. His priorities are bans on assault rifles and high-capacity clips of ammunition. He called a deal "achievable."

Golden, a leader in the Senate on crime-fighting measures, said in an interview that the final deal is expected to have some stiffer sentences for gun crimes, although not as severe as he hoped. But he said the deal will crack down on the trafficking of illegal guns. Illegal guns are the weapons of choice in New York City crime, said the Brooklyn Republican, a former New York City police officer.

The state already has among the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. The Assembly's Democratic majority and the Senate's Republican-controlled majority discussed the progress in closed-door conferences Tuesday night, and their staffs met late into the night, but legislators said there is no deal yet.

The priority for Cuomo and Silver is to close what they say are loopholes that let some weapon designs escape a ban on assault weapons. They also want to outlaw the high-capacity clips.

"I think we will come up with a reasonable definition and a reasonable closing of loopholes," Silver said.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos is insisting on changes to a state law that authorizes longer court-ordered mental health treatment for individuals who won't seek help but are deemed a safety threat.

Legislators are prepared to be called into session by Cuomo as early as Thursday if a deal is struck, though aCuomo spokesman said he knows of no plan to call legislators into session that day. The Legislature isn't scheduled for regular session until Monday.

Cuomo rides into his third year with sky-high popularity as he delivers his State of the State address, which is usually just political theater. Still, he and legislative leaders are already in serious negotiations on several other major initiatives, including:

— Raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour from $7.25 as proposed by Silver as a top priority, or by a lesser amount in a compromise.

— Securing billions of federal dollars for local and state governments and victims of Superstorm Sandy and establishing preventive measures for the next big storm. Nation-leading climate change initiatives are expected, too.

— Changes to schools to improve student performance that could include longer days and academic years.

— The continuing need to create jobs, the top priority of Senate Republicans.

— Legalizing casinos off American Indian lands to boost jobs and tax revenues.

— Restrictions on the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk procedures that critics say impinge on civil rights.

Cuomo's other priorities will include his effort to legalize casinos off Indian land and another to restrict the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk procedures that critics say impinge on civil rights.

___ Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.

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