Assemblyman Jeffries on the Albany Finals

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, New York State Assemblyman representing central Brooklyn Hakeem Jeffries (D-57) gave an update from Albany on the official final day of the legislative session.

A deal on same sex marriage?

On the last day of the legislative session in Albany, a bill to legalize gay marriage may or may not come up for a vote. It all hangs on the Republican majority in the state Senate, which has complained that there are not enough protections for religious institutions in the new law. If gays should be allowed to get married, some senators say, then religious organizations should be allowed to decline performing such services that are against their beliefs.

Hakeem Jeffries said that he understood the conservative concern, but that the foot-dragging on the right is more about running out the clock than it is about ensuring religious freedom—which is already guaranteed by a higher authority.

There are strong protections contained in the legislation right now to ensure that no religion, religious figure or institution would be compelled to do anything inconsistent with their religious beliefs. The Constitution is very clear on this issue: there's the free exercise clause in the First Amendment that prohibits government from imposing any dictates on religious organizations.

Adoption opt-out

Another sticking point for fence-sitters: if gays are allowed to get married, we shouldn't be able to force religious-affiliated adoption organizations to serve same-sex couples. A Catholic group shouldn't be required to allow a gay couple to adopt from them, for example.

It's more of a gray area, Jeffries conceded, but the Assemblyman sensed a contradiction in granting equal rights while protecting discrimination.

If we are going to permit marriage equality for same sex couples, it seems to me somewhat problematic if we're then going to turn around and impose restrictions on the ability for those same sex married couples to raise children looking for a loving home.

It gets even hairier when you factor in the government money that many religious-affiliated adoption agencies receive.

For an organization that takes government funding in connection with the adoption process, it's problematic to provide a religious exemption and sanction discrimination in a widespread fashion.

Rent too high, decontrol level too low

Among the other measures being considered at the last minute is a move to raise the rent decontrol benchmark from $2,000 to $2,500. That is, if a landlord can renovate an apartment up to a $2,500/month level under the new law, they can then raise the rent beyond that level to whatever the marker will bear.

While a change to the minimum is welcome, Jeffries said the new law wouldn't go nearly far enough. He claimed that we need a more substantial hike from the last benchmark, which was set in 1993.

If in fact the $2,000 number had been indexed for inflation or tied to yearly increases that landlords receive from the rent guidelines board, that number would be between $3,500 and $4,200...There's no legitimate argument that can be made that $2,000 is a luxury number in 2011 as it was in 1993, so the premise of the law is flawed and any insignificant increase, like to $2,500, I think would be unacceptable to a majority of my colleagues, and certainly unacceptable to me.

Should Albany call the shots?

Jeffries also acknowledged the absurdity of legislators from across the state dictating rent laws for New York City. He said he and other legislators were working to repeal a law that placed a purely local issue in Albany's hands.

There's no reason for senators from western New York or the North Country or central New York who know nothing about rent regulation or the nature of the housing market and the difficulties that tenants face in New York City to be deciding the fate of 2.5 million New Yorkers who live in rent regulated housing.