With Three Republicans Reportedly on Board, IDC’s Avella Still Hopeful on “Conversion Therapy” Ban

State Senator Tony Avella, an IDC member from Queens. | NEW YORK STATE SENATE

State Senator Tony Avella, an IDC member from Queens. | NEW YORK STATE SENATE

As the State Senate slogged through its last scheduled day in its 2014 session, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) that shares majority power with the Republicans, voiced hope that a measure to bar mental health professionals from performing “sexual orientation change efforts” on minors could yet get a floor vote.

Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat with a long history of support for LGBT rights, told Gay City News, “I think it’s definitely possible” that the bill, sponsored by out gay Manhattan Democrat Brad Hoylman, could be okayed for Senate consideration.

The measure, modeled on legislation enacted in the past two years in California and New Jersey, would prohibit mental health practitioners licensed by the state from performing “conversion therapy” aimed at changing the sexual orientation or gender identity and expression of youths.

Hoylman has emphasized the bill puts no restrictions on counseling offered by non-professionals, including clergy. Nor would the bill curtail the rights of mental health professionals from advocating such practices in the public square or from referring their minor patients to non-professional programs.

The measure won approval from the State Assembly by an 86 to 28 vote on June 16.

Both Hoylman and the Empire State Pride Agenda, the leading LGBT lobby group in New York, have voiced confidence that they could produce the votes needed for passage should the bill advance to the Senate floor.

The decision on having a vote, however, is in the hands of the Senate’s leadership, headed by Long Island Republican Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, an IDC member who represents portions of the Bronx and Westchester County.

Given the IDC’s role in controlling the flow of legislation to the floor, Avella’s comments are significant. The Queens IDC member said the Hoylman bill remains “a priority” for his conference, but that “there are a lot of bills in the mix and the more that are in the mix, the more difficult it is.”

Speaking at about 2:30 p.m., Avella mentioned that the effort to reach agreement on reforms to the state-mandated teacher evaluation system had occupied considerable attention in the Senate on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, a source familiar with the effort to pass the Hoylman bill told Gay City News that Diane Savino, an IDC member from Staten Island, was being “incredibly helpful” on the issue.

Another positive sign came on June 18, when Long Island Republican Jack Martins announced his support for the bill, the first GOP senator to do so. According to the Pride Agenda, the measure also has the support of Republicans Andrew Lanza of Staten Island and Phil Boyle from Suffolk County. Given that the Republicans represent 29 of the 35 members of the governing coalition, having three GOP senators on board may be as significant as the solid support for the bill from the five IDC members.

A call to Lanza seeking his views on the prospects for the measure moving forward this week had not been returned as of the time of this posting. Boyle’s office was not immediately available for comment.

The governor’s office weighed in on behalf of the bill earlier in the week.

In an email message, Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, told Gay City News, “Gay conversion therapy is a discredited and outrageous practice that has no place in New York.”

As of mid-afternoon, Avella was uncertain whether the Senate would work as far into the night as needed to finish up the year’s regular session or would be reconvening on Friday. The top agenda item in need of resolution in Albany is a proposed medical marijuana law. The long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, passed last week for the seventh time by the Assembly and sponsored in the Senate by Lower Manhattan-Downtown Brooklyn Democrat Daniel Squadron, will not get a floor vote this session.