Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New York MMA Bill Status Update - 1.13.16


New York's 2016 legislative session has begun, and with it comes the renewed fight to get the 1997 ban on professional MMA competition reversed via the "MMA Bill".

When last we left this story, time had run out on the 2015 session, and with those disappearing sands of the hourglass went our hopes of the MMA Bill passing and getting signed into law. However, 2015 was different than prior years. Unlike before, the MMA Bill had more than enough support needed to pass out of the Democratic conference, with the golden number of 76 actually exceeded. Gone was Sheldon Silver, who, in his role as Speaker of the Assembly, had worked behind the scenes to keep support of the bill low, and rushing into that void was a heroic push by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, who re-wrote the bill so it addressed the concerns of so many fellow legislators who'd previously been on the fence. Really, it was just scheduling that killed us, with too many more important issues (like education reform, taxation, etc.) taking precedence, and MMA falling by the wayside. But here we are in January, and the battle is on again - this time much earlier in the session, and with even better odds at success.

So where is the MMA Bill now? Here's what you need to know:

  • The Senate has never been a problem when it's come to passing their version of the bill, so as usual, the battleground to observe is the Assembly. 
  • In the Assembly, there are a number of members who, based on their own feelings and opinions, are very much against New York having sanctioned mixed martial arts. These legislators were emboldened by Silver when he was in power, but now that he's gone (and tried and convicted for corruption), they're relegated to being just dissenting voices in a fight they know they're losing. However, one such Assembly member has at least some power in complicating things: Assemblywoman Margaret Markey.
  • Assemblywoman Markey chairs the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, and that's a committee that the MMA Bill must first pass through on its journey to the floor for a vote (there are a couple other committees on the route, but that's the big one). Can she stall and force the MMA Bill to die like an unpicked tomato on the vine? Not really, and that's because the MMA Bill is quite unlike all the other pieces of legislation out there. Usually, a bill goes through the various committees first, and then support is gathered for it in preparation for a conference vote. But the MMA Bill has gone through the process ass-backwards - it enters the Tourism Committee with already more than enough votes to pass out of conference (and through a floor vote), so public interest and pressure from above means Assemblywoman Markey can't sweep it under the rug and will have to move on it. We already saw this in action with Assemblywoman Markey's aborted hearing on injuries in combative sports. The talk around the water cooler is that she cancelled because she couldn't find enough people to speak out against MMA; she won't be able to cancel these hearings forever, though.
  • When the Tourism Committee finally does have their hearing, it's likely going to be a big deal in terms of media and soundbites. After all, this will be the opposition's last chance to vocalize why they're against it, so they're going to make the most of the opportunity. But that's all part of the process, and sometimes the process is the most important thing. Because past that point, it should be smooth skating through the Ways and Means and Codes Committees, and then on to the floor for the long-awaited vote.
  • Another factor worth considering is the governor and his budget proposal. Every year, the governor submits his budget, and March is spent with him and the legislature ironing out an agreement on what initiatives are going to be undertaken. What makes this year particularly interesting is Governor Andrew Cuomo's stated intention of including MMA in his proposal. This means he could be the vehicle by which the MMA Bill gets passed, or it forces the Assembly to act on it. 
  • There's also the UFC's lawsuit and injunction, and scheduled event at Madison Square Garden in April. If Judge Kimba Wood grants that injunction, the UFC will legally be able to hold an event wholly unsanctioned by the athletic commission at MSG, and that's the kind of black eye the State doesn't want. That can force the Assembly to act soon as well.
So there you have it. All these moving parts make the equation extremely complicated, but for once, the odds are stacked ridiculously in our favor. It's time to just wait and see.

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