This is a guest post by Stephen Koepfer, founder of NY MMA Now: Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York
Last Monday the Parks, Tourism, and Sports Development Committee of the New York State Assembly voted in favor of the bill (A04146) to decriminalize and sanction mixed martial arts (MMA) by an overwhelming vote of 16-3. But, as if the fourteen year fight for legal MMA has not been long enough, on the eve of possible regulation in New York, debate continues full steam creating a virtual race for the finish line. The finish line is June 20th, the end of the 2011 legislative calendar.
For legislation to become law in New York it must pass successfully through both the State Assembly and the Senate, at which point Governor Andrew Cuomo must sign the bill into law. Cuomo, who has long been silent on the issue of MMA, has now stated that when the bill reaches his desk, he will sign it.
Like the Senate before it, which passed companion legislation in support of MMA last May by a staggering 42-18 vote (as compared to the 32-26 vote in 2010), the Assembly Parks, Tourism, and Sports Development Committee has created a clear mandate for its fellow Assemblypersons: New Yorkers want MMA and they want it now!
Before we get too excited, the Assembly legislation still has several hurdles to jump. Next up on the committee list is Codes, under the chairmanship of Assemblyman Joeseph R. Lentol. Assemblyman Lentol is a supporter of legalized MMA in New York. The bill is on the calendar for Codes next week and is expected to pass through favorably as it did in 2010.
After Codes, the bill moves to Ways & Means under the chairmanship of Herman D. Farrell, Jr. Assemblyman Farrell has not been a supporter of legalized MMA in New York. This is where our next significant hurdle will be. Assemblyman Farrell must follow the mandate being set by the people of New York, the Senate, and his peers in the Assembly Tourism Committee by putting the legislation on the Ways & Means agenda.
Assuming Assemblyman Farrell follows the will of the people and puts the legislation on the calendar, and it passes, the bill will move on to the Rules Committee under the chairmanship of Speaker Sheldon Silver. This is the committee which determines if the legislation will get to the Assembly floor for a full vote. In 2010, this is where the legislation stalled out. Speaker Silver never brought the legislation up for vote, noting that he was simply following the will of the Assembly.
This year, with clear support in the press, the Senate, and the Assembly, Speaker Silver is attempting to play the same disingenuous card. Against all evidence to the contrary, this past Wednesday, the NY Daily News reported Speaker Silver as saying "There does not appear to be widespread support in the Assembly for this legislation."
While Speaker Silver may have been able to give that rationalization wings in 2010, it won't fly in 2011. Later that same afternoon, with stealth and timing that Perry Mason could not have planned better, Assemblyman Dean Murray revealed to the press that he presented a letter in support of MMA to Speaker Silver and Assemblyman Farrell. The letter, supporting the MMA legislation is cosigned by 60 Assembly members from both sides of the isle. In an interview with Steven Marrocco of MMA Junkie, Murray noted that were it not for time constraints of the ending legislative calendar, he could have gotten upwards of 70 signatures. Furthermore, Murray posited in an interview with Josh Gross of ESPN that he estimates a minimum of 80 positive votes were the bill to go to the floor today (that is a majority folks!).
Murray's letter strongly echoes the sentiments of Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, Chairman of the powerful Labor Committee, who last March circulated an Assembly wide memo in support of MMA in New York.
So here we stand with a clear mandate from the people of New York and 10 days left to push the legislation through remaining committees so we can have the full Assembly weigh in once and for all on New York MMA. This is a difficult, but not impossible task. We know the bill will pass if it gets to the floor for a vote. Assemblyman Farrell and Speaker Silver know it will pass if they give it the chance. So, the remaining question is this: Will these two men ignore the mandate in front of them, or will they do what they were elected to do and follow the will of the people?
Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York
To express your support of MMA in New York to the men who hold the fate of our sport in their hands, please contact:
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.: FarrelH@assembly.state.ny.us
Speaker Sheldon Silver: Speaker@assembly.state.ny.us