Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York MMA: A Fist Full of Holdouts

Not since 2010 when I formed the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York have I felt more optimistic about the prospects for getting MMA properly regulated in New York. In fact, for the first time in five years I believe we can see concrete positive results of all the planning, lobbying, meetings with members of our legislature, interviews, social media campaigns, articles, editorials, rallies, etc. After years of hard work, on behalf of many people across our state, this year we are ridiculously close to getting what we want. The finish line is only a few steps away. We literally have only days left (Wednesday is the end of the legislative calendar) to put the new and vastly improved Assembly bill A02604 to the floor for a vote.

For years those who oppose bringing regulated MMA to New York have expressed concerns about the health and safety of our athletes. When one boils down the battle for MMA in New York and strains out the disingenuous oppositions and unrelated political curds that have plagued this process for years, the most credible, important and relevant concern left in the pot is indeed the health and safety of our New York athletes. There is nothing more important than the safety of our athletes; not the money, not the job growth, not the ticket sales, nothing.

This year it came to light that the initial version of Assembly bill A02604, essentially the same bill that has passed the Senate for the past six years, inadvertently banned the now booming New York amateur MMA scene; a move that would essentially force thousands of fighters back to the illegal world underground fighting. While dissecting the bill, journalist Jim Genia identified language in the bill that, if passed, set the stage for the regulation of professional MMA, but banned amateur MMA simultaneously. This set into motion a movement on behalf of the New York MMA community, the likes of which I have rarely seen. Of course we wanted regulated professional MMA in New York, but we did not want to lose our growing amateur circuit and compromise their health and safety.

Read my April 30th open letter to the Assembly on this topic 

The unregulated "wild west" nature of amateur MMA has long been a concern in New York, but not a focus of past attempts at legislation. None of the bills in years past have addressed the needs of our amateurs; it was always about the professional athletes. This year's bill put amateurs on the chopping block and was enough to generate a call to action that ironically put the pro-MMA and anti-MMA crowds on the same side - fighting for the safety of ALL our New York athletes.

All across New York coaches, regulators, fighters and fans reached out to their legislators. The message was clear: We want MMA in New York, but we want safe regulated MMA for our professionals AND amateurs - amend the bill if you want our support. As an example, here are the Coalition memos we shared at meetings with our Assembly Members:

Similar e-mails, letters, tweets, phone calls and memos went out to Assembly Members across New York from our community. It seemed for once that actual concerns were being discussed, rather than the usual anti-Zuffa union soundbites that we New Yorkers were used to. Still, we are used to feeling neglected in New York politics. After years of disappointment, hope was a feeling we dared not entertain. In all the years of running the New York MMA hamster wheel, we had become accustomed to feeling unable to effectively participate in the process. But, this year was a perfect storm of sorts. The opposition and the supporters of MMA wanted some of the same things: and people listened!

Assembly Majority Leader and primary sponsor of A02604 Joe Morelle announced last week that the bill had been amended. Here is a copy of his Assembly memo outlining the bill's changes from just days ago:

The new version of A02604 is a progressive document that truly addresses the short and long term safety needs of our athletes and effectively raises the bar on how MMA can and should be regulated (the bill can be read in its entirely here). Additionally, you can listen to Jim Genia discussing the new bill and current state of things on MMA Payout. Word on the street is the the Senate will agree to amend their version of the bill and that the Governor is throwing his weight behind this new bill as well.

So we have a revamped bill that sets a new standard with regard to safety measures for our athletes, provides for New York State Athletic Commission oversight of both professional and amateur MMA, and revamps the current outdated combat sports law in numerous important and significant ways. After years of hard work, we have essentially gotten pretty much everything we and the opposition wanted in a new bill. So why are we still pushing for a vote on the bill? This should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, we are still fighting because the Assembly majority is still about 4 votes short of the 76 Democratic votes we need to pass the bill. Convention in the Democrat controlled Assembly is that a bill must be able to pass with only Democrat votes. If that sounds contrary to how our system is supposed to function, that is because it is. The Democrat controlled Assembly does not want to depend on Republican votes to pass a bill; effectively neutering all the pro-MMA constituents in Republican controlled districts. This leaves us with three possible outcomes:

First, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (who was a prior co-sponsor of the bill in years past) could send the bill to the floor for a vote regardless. In this case, the bill will surely pass in a bi-partisan fashion and we will finally have regulated pro AND amateur MMA in New York for the first time since 1997. There are plenty of Republican votes to make up for the few missing Democrat votes.

Second, we can (and most definitely should!) give a last hard push to the hold out Democrats who are still undecided regarding this bill. In my opinion, any member of the opposition who does not stand behind this amended bill is acting out of pure disingenuous self-interest. Here, quoting from Jim Genia's blog, are the Assembly members in question. Contact them and let them know where you stand:

These two guys are VERY close to voting in favor of the MMA bill, so definitely go at them hard: 
-Assemblyman Steve Otis, Westchester -, 914-939-7028 and 518-455-4897 
-Assemblyman James Skoufis, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-469-6929 and 518-455-5441 
Here are the rest of the undecideds: 
-Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Queens -, 718-457-3615 and 518-455-4561 
-Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, Queens -, 718-479-2333 and 518-455-4711 
-Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Buffalo -, 716-885-9630 and 518-455-4886 
-Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Brooklyn -, 718-771-3105 and 518-455-5262 
-Assemblyman Charles Barron, Brooklyn -, 718-257-5824 and 518-455-5912 
-Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-454-1703 and 518-455-5177 
-Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, Albany -, 518-455-4178 
-Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh, Manhattan -, 212-979-9696 and 518-455-5506

The final and unfortunate third possibility is that once again we do not achieve 76 Democratic votes AND Assembly Speaker Heastie does not put the bill to the floor for a bi-partisan vote. In this case, we are left once again waiting to start the fight over in January; albeit with a fantastic new bill from which to begin the fight anew. We have spent years waiting for this moment: A new progressive bill with an MMA supporter in the Speaker's seat. Will that be enough? Or will it be New York Politics as usual?

We will know by Wednesday.

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