A bill to legalize mixed-martial arts in New York is back in play after it passed an Assembly committee vote Thursday following a year in limbo.
The bill had died of inaction without being brought to a vote on the Assembly floor, and had to be sent back to the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, where it passed by a vote of 14-6 one year ago. On Thursday, it passed once again, 12-9.
Now, it goes back to the Assembly's Codes Committee, while a companion bill wends its way through the Senate.
Gov. David Paterson, who supports the legislation, had planned for a projected $2.1 million in state taxes from MMA bouts to help plug a massive budget deficit. But discrepancies remain between the governor's version and the Assembly and Senate bills that still need to be worked out, said Paterson spokeswoman Jessica Bassett said.
"It's a revenue producer and the governor would like to see it passed," Bassett said.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, a Colonie Democrat who has been the leading voice opposing MMA legalization, spoke out against the bill at Thursday's committee meeting and called it a poor choice for trying to balance the budget.
"We're putting all these Band-Aids on our budget and trying to solve our problems with new gambling opportunities and mixed-martial arts and we're sacrificing our integrity," said Reilly, who continues to be interviewed by international media outlets because of his standing up against deep-pocketed lobbyists and a groundswell of popular support for MMA.
"I'm happy to carry on the battle, but I'd much rather have a budget passed as long as it doesn't include these gimmicks," Reilly said.
He circulated a letter criticizing the use of MMA tax revenue to balance the budget and gathered signatures of support from 49 other Assembly members, a sizable bloc he figured got the attention of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
"I don't think this would pass a full Assembly vote right now, even though the lobbyists thought it would sneak through the governor's office," Reilly said.
Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, a Manhattan Democrat, a co-sponsor of the bill, disagreed. "A majority of Assembly members support it and it passed our committee by a significant margin again," he said. "People from New York are going to see MMA bouts in Canada and New Jersey. We can't continue losing revenue like that. It makes no sense."
"We appreciate the Assembly's consideration, and we hope that we can bring quality mixed martial arts to our fans in New York state very soon," said Julie Wood of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a promoter of MMA events.
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