ALBANY -- A breakaway group of Senate Democrats vowed Friday to help Gov. Andrew Cuomo pass the "strongest assault-weapons ban in the country."
Sen. Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx, who heads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, said after an hour-and-a-half-long meeting with Cuomo at the Capitol that the group supports the governor's legislation "wholeheartedly," and that he hopes it will be passed as soon as possible -- preferably this month.
Cuomo has yet to publicly reveal his gun-control bill, but he has said one is expected as part of his State of the State address Wednesday.
"I think we're on the same page," Klein said, "that we have to do everything possible to ban assault weapons in New York, (as well as) high-capacity magazines, make sure that people with serious mental health issues don't possess guns. And I think that's what we have to do in the state of New York -- pass one of the toughest gun laws in the nation."
Klein brokered a power-sharing deal with Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, in which the two will alternate the Senate presidency every two weeks. The coalition government will control the chamber, shifting power away from Democrats who might have had the majority otherwise.
Klein said Friday he has not yet discussed the proposed legislation with Skelos. It is unclear what specific gun-control measures Senate Republicans might support, but the conference has indicated it would support closing loopholes in existing gun laws and limiting high-capacity magazines.
Skelos released a statement Friday saying that any gun-control legislation should include a strengthening of Kendra's Law, which allows courts to order mentally ill people with histories of violence into outpatient treatment. An amendment introduced last session would have expanded the law to cover more people.
"The Senate is committed to acting on legislation as soon as possible to strengthen Kendra's Law and make it permanent," Skelos said in a statement.
"We are seeing more and more horrific stories about what can happen when someone with a severe mental illness, who poses a danger to themselves and others, doesn't receive the proper treatment," he continued. "Not only should this issue be a part of our discussions related to gun safety, but it must be part of any three-way agreement on laws to increase public safety and prevent the kind of senseless violence and death we've seen in the past month."
Klein wouldn't say whether he thought Senate Republicans would support Cuomo's legislation.
"We can't deal with 'what ifs,'" he said.
Under the new power structure, Klein said he and Skelos would have to agree on legislation that comes to the floor, regardless of who is acting as temporary Senate president.
The 2013 session officially begins next Wednesday with Cuomo's State of the State speech in Albany, through which he will lay out his agenda for the year. He has been in talks with lawmakers about gun-control legislation in recent weeks after last month's shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Webster, Monroe County, have thrust the issue into the national spotlight.
Cuomo's office did not comment on the governor's meeting with the IDC. He said earlier this week that his proposed legislation would not be weak, regardless of the contentious nature of gun control.
"It's a controversial issue. It always has been. And we think significant change has to be made," Cuomo said Wednesday at a cabinet meeting in Albany. "Our proposals are not about a tinkering around the edges. We think it has be significant. We think this is a multifaceted problem. And it's not just guns. This is also about mental health. This is also about a culture of violence that has been permeated and perpetuating."
Klein said Cuomo's bill would close loopholes in the state's current assault-weapons ban, which "would make it the strongest assault-weapons ban in the country."
He said the bill would also include background checks designed to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who might be violent.
"We just spent an awful lot of time going through the proposed bill step-by-step, and I think it's something that needs to be done," Klein said. "Hopefully we can do it as quickly as possible.
"We need to do it in January," he continued. "As quickly as possible."