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State Senate Puts Mayoral Control On Summer Hiatus

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After a marathon session that ended just after 4 a.m. Friday, the State Senators broke for the summer without restoring the mayor's control of city schools.

Since the law giving him control expired July 1, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been lobbying the Senate to adopt a bill passed by the State Assembly that made minor tweaks to the original law.

Although there appeared to be enough Senate support for the Assembly bill, Democrats blocked a vote and pushed a bill that would gut much of the mayor's power.

The measure failed 15 to 40, with 11 Democrats joining all the Republicans.

On July 1, control of city schools reverted back to the old Board of Education, which effectively gave power back to the mayor.

The board likely will stay in power until the start of the school year in September, when Senate leaders say they will take up the mayoral control issue again.

The mayor's representatives say the old system simply doesn't work.

"The Board of Ed, even now, is a dysfunctional system," said Dennis Walcott, the board's president. "And as school opens in September, it will become even more dysfunctional, and we should not allow that."

During his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said lawmakers who oppose the bill "want to ruin the schools." He then compared them to a British Prime Minister who tried to appease the Nazis during World War II.

"There's a point at which, you remember Neville Chamberlain, no matter how many times you said yes, that's just the starting point for the next round. There's always more, more, more," said Bloomberg.

The mayor had been pushing Governor David Paterson to keep lawmakers in Albany until a vote on mayoral control happens but the governor did not responded publicly to that request.

One piece of legislation the State Senate did pass would ban the use of a wide range of portable electronic devices while driving.

The main intent is to ban text messaging by drivers.

State law already forbids the use of a handheld cell phone while driving.

The new bill, which has already been passed by the Assembly, sets fines of up to $150 for using handheld devices or laptops while a vehicle is moving.

Fines could be imposed only as a second offense after a driver is pulled over for breaking another law.

Many city drivers told NY1 today that the measure was overdue.

"I don't think people should do that at all. It's dangerous. My husband does it, but I'm always yelling at him," said one.

"I think it's horrible. I drive in every morning from Staten Island with my kids and I see people on the bridge actually doing it. It's really dangerous, it puts me and my kids at risk," said another.

"I don't do anything like that. I think it's really bad," said a third. "I drive around and I see it happening all the time, and it's very, very dangerous."

The bill still needs to be signed by the governor.

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