Senate Advances Term Limits Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate has advanced to its active list a measure carried by Republican Sen. Joe Griffo that would place term limits on legislative leaders and committee chairs.

The bill has been approved by the chamber before, most recently last year, but has stalled in the Democratic-led Assembly.

If approved, the posts of temporary Senate president, Assembly speaker and minority leaders of the conferences would be term limited to eight years.

Committee chairs would be capped at serving eight consecutive years.

The bill’s speed through the Legislature this session comes following the arrest of now-former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is accused of using his office to accept bribes and kickbacks which he masked as legal referrals.

Silver stepped down from the speaker’s post in January following his arrest. He was replaced by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie, who told reporters he is “not a fan” of term limits.

The bill’s activation also comes after Senate Republicans late last week quietly introduced a trio of ethics bills, including one that would require financial disclosure of non-family members who live with state officials.

The bill, seemingly targeting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s girlfriend Sandra Lee, was not meant to do so, a Senate GOP spokeswoman insisted.

Closed-Door Leaders Meetings Commence

From the Morning Memo:

Like clockwork, the first meetings on the budget took place last week at the Capitol, and it included three old faces and one new addition.

The budget decision making process in Albany has long been criticized by good-government groups.

Little information is made available following the closed-door sessions between leaders in the state Senate and Assembly when it comes to making major policy decisions and figuring out how to spend the state’s $142 billion budget.

“The discussions we’ve had were very broad. A lot of public policy issues have been discussed and we’re focused on getting an on-time budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

The so-called “three men in a room” meetings in recent years grew to four with the inclusion of Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein while his conference was in a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans.

He is still being included this year, even after losing power and the title of Senate co-president.

“You guys were writing a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t going to be included, so I’m included, I’m glad I’m included and I’m going to work very closely with the new speaker and Dean Skelos to move our state forward,” Klein said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Klein’s voice in the talks is needed, even if he doesn’t have the power he had in the last two years after Republicans gained full control of the Senate.

“I’ve spoken to Sen. Skelos about it,” Cuomo said at a cabinet meeting last week. “We both agree that he has a group that may be important to pass many of these items because you have a close number of votes in the Senate.

Including Klein highlights the insular process of budget-making in Albany, a process that critics say should include legislative minority leaders like Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

“We have great ideas. Our conference is known for great ideas,” Kolb said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins agrees.

“The budget is the policy document of the state so I think the broader the voices are that are hard at the table, the better the product will be,” she said.

This year’s leaders meetings come after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sharply criticized the practice of closed-door budget talks, likening the private negotiations to a sitcom, while questioning the lack of sunlight on the budget process.

Ultimately, it’s up to Cuomo to decide who comes to the meetings, and he has no desire to change the format. Several years ago, state officials attempted public leaders meetings.

“We had those budget meetings before I came here that were scripted that frankly were a mockery in my opinion,” said Cuomo.

One thing that is different this year is there’s a new speaker: Carl Heastie of the Bronx will negotiate his first budget since taking over for embattled Manhattan Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who faces corruption charges. He has no plans to push for either Kolb or Stewart-Cousins to be included.

“I’m there to represent the interests of the Assembly majority and so when there’s going to be a meeting to discuss the issues the Assembly majority has, that’s where I’m going to go,” Heastie said.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.

At 9 a.m., members and supporters of the Alliance for Tenant Power and the “Real Rent Reform Campaign,” or the “R3″ campaign, and NYC officials call for changes in rent regulations, during a rally scheduled before a 10 a.m. hearing of members of Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., during The New School’s sold-out conference titled “All Minds Matter: Resolving the Achievement Gap of Boys and Young Men of Color in the Age of Obama,” NYC officials, commentators, family advocates and scholars are scheduled to speak; Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, room I202, Arnhold Hall, 55 W. 13th St., Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., NJ Sen. Cory Booker, Manhattan BP Gale A. Brewer, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, NYC Public Advocate Tish James, Urban Justice Center Executive Director Doug Lasdon and US Treasury Department general counsel Christopher Meade, mark the opening of the center’s relocated headquarters, subsidized by $5 million in city funding; ninth floor, 40 Rector St., Manhattan.

At 10:15 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability after a breakfast he hosts at Gracie Mansion for members of the city’s congressional delegation, 88th Street and East End Avenue, Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and LG Kathy Hochul meet with students and lead an organizing effort to combat sexual violence on college campuses, Center for Tomorrow, Flint & Service Center roads, University at Buffalo North Campus, Amherst.

Also at 10:30 a.m., Senate Republicans will hold a joint committee meeting on the MTA’s budget and finances, Hearing Room A, LOB, Albany.

At 11 a.m., on the eve of Park Advocacy Day, State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey will unveil Cuomo’s $900 million NY Parks 2020 plan, Saratoga Spa State Park; Administration Building; Saratoga Springs.

At 11:30 a.m., Sen. John Bonacic will hold a press conference in support of funding for the Research and Recognition Project in the 2015-16 budget, Room 124, state Capitol, Albany.

At 12:30 p.m., Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Nita Lowey and Hudson Valley elected officials will urge Congress to pass a passenger rail bill that includes significant investments in rail crossing improvements, Metro-North Rail Crossing at Roaring Brook Road – Exit 33 off Saw Mill River Parkway, Chappaqua.

Also at 12:30 p.m., Gillibrand will host a roundtable meeting at U of R with students and officials, as well as survivors, advocates, and law enforcement to discuss bolstering efforts to combat sexual violence on college campuses, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, 755 Library Rd., Rochester.

At 1:30 p.m., more than a hundred district and charter school parents, clergy members and education reform activists will call on Albany to prioritize the governor’s education reform proposals, Million Dollar staircase, state Capitol, Albany.

At 2:15 p.m., Gillibrand and Rep. John Katko host a roundtable meeting at Syracuse University with students and officials, as well as survivors, advocates, and law enforcement to discuss bolstering efforts to combat sexual violence on college campuses, Dr. Paul and Natalie Strasser Legacy Room, Eggers Hall, Room 220, SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship, Syracuse.

At 5:30 p.m., Sen. Kathy Marchione hosts a $500-a-head fundraiser at The Fort Orange Club, President’s Room, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

Also at 5:30 p.m., Sen. Cathy Young, SRCC chair, hosts a $700-a-head fundraiser at The Fort Orange Club, Library, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

At 6 p.m., Sen. Andrew Lanza hosts a $500-a-head fundraiser at The Fort Orange Club, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

Headlines…

MSG and Cablevision boss James Dolan reportedly wants to buy the New York Daily News and has a team of bankers exploring the possibility. But Dolan and MSG have been locked in a 10-year feud with the News, which could put some of the paper’s editorial staff in a precarious position if he becomes the buyer.

The DN: “The governor’s policy of having state agencies delete emails after just 90 days is a violation of the people’s right to know how officials handle government business – and a recipe for cover-ups.”

A power play by the legislature against Cuomo weakened yesterday as the Assembly agreed to introduce the governor’s budget amendments. The Democratic-led chamber introduced the governor’s budget amendments containing ethics measures aimed at the legislature, state officials confirmed. Senate Republicans haven’t yet followed suit.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is at his “wit’s end” over the harsh treatment he’s received from supposed good friend Gov. Andrew Cuomo since taking office, according to sources who say they spoke directly to the mayor. But de Blasio officials deny the mayor has sought advice on how to deal with the governor.

De Blasio said he will continue not to march in the city’s annual Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade unless this year’s event becomes “more inclusive” of pro-gay groups, including the St. Pat’s For All Parade organizers.

The mayor marched again in the St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside, Queens, which emphasizes a message of inclusiveness. Kerry Kennedy, the human rights activist, was a grand marshal this year.

Tracey Brooks is readying to depart after nearly seven years as president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates within the next few weeks to join the firm of Featherstonhaugh, Wiley & Clyne, sources said. No one has been tapped to replace her yet.

A coalition of education groups is urging the state Legislature to make changes to the property-tax cap that was installed in 2011, saying the restrictions are straining school budgets.

A massive pro-charter rally co-organized by Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter school network, that is scheduled for this Wednesday in Albany will be headlined by Lisa Leslie, the former Women’s National Basketball Association star and Olympic gold medalist.

Senate Republicans, under pressure from supermarket billionaire and mega-donor John Catsimatidis, are trying to slip a “green biofuels” mandate into Cuomo’s new budget that could add $150 million a year to heating costs in New York.

More >

The Weekend That Was

A spokesman for former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani strongly denied a claim from Carl Paladino last week that the former mayor requested $50,000 for an endorsement during the Buffalo businessman’s 2010 campaign for governor.

A 26-year-old nurse said that a hospital where she had worked in Dallas and its parent company failed her when she contracted Ebola while caring for the first person in the U.S. diagnosed with the deadly disease. She is preparing to sue Texas Health Resources.

Senate Republicans may want her to publicly disclose her finances, but a spokeswoman for Cuomo’s celebrity chef girlfriend, Sandra Lee, insists: “None of the companies Ms. Lee owns lobby or have business before the state.”

Democratic NY-11 candidate Vincent Gentile is already making the Eric Garner case part of the race for office. The Brooklyn pol called on his Republican opponent, Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, to release the transcripts of the grand jury that decided not to indict NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo for killing the father of five.

The TU chides state lawmakers for resisting Cuomo’s ethics reform ultimatum, and suggests they publicly negotiate a deal with him.

Hundreds of people attended a Saturday afternoon “Call Out Cuomo” educational rally at Massena High School.

Fred LeBrun questions Cuomo’s book deal, and wonders where US Attorney Preet Bharara is on the subject.

EJ McMahon questions the Cuomo administration’s claims that the upstate economy is “robust.”

Now that the fracking war in New York is over – for the moment – what comes next for the Southern Tier and environmental advocates?

The Buffalo News supports the governor’s quest for a “fair, effective” teacher performance evaluation system.

An unprecedented trial is scheduled to open tomorrow in Western New York. Three white Attica prison guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating of George Williams, an African-American prisoner. All three have pleaded not guilty.

This week, the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation published its inaugural First in Freedom Index. Using more than 60 data points, we calculated fiscal, educational, regulatory and health-care freedom in the 50 states. New York ranked last.

Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind is wondering why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not taken a position on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled address before Congress.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is raising questions about Clinton’s ethical judgment after reports that her family’s foundation received millions of dollars from foreign governments during her tenure as secretary of state.

Libertarian hero Rand Paul of Kentucky on Saturday grabbed first place in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll for the third year running, followed closely by rising potential 2016 Republican presidential primary star Scott Walker.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering entering the Democratic presidential race, said that financial regulation needs to be at the forefront of the 2016 campaign and suggested big banks need to be broken up if they might harm the nation.

O’Malley took a veiled shot at his possible 2016 rival, Clinton, criticizing the politics of “triangulation” that have historically been associated with the former first lady and her husband, former President Clinton.

Bordering on dysfunction, Congress passed a one-week bill late Friday night to avert a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department, as leaders in both political parties quelled a revolt by House conservatives furious that the measure left President Barack Obama’s immigration policy intact.

Injuries on NYC playgrounds cost taxpayers $20 million in the last decade — with parents filing 577 claims against the Parks Department, a comptroller report reveals.

The Democrat-controlled state Assembly is planning to hold a public roundtable discussion on legislation restricting where sex offenders can live – a move that some lawmakers see as a sign that the bill could win passage.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition urging Cuomo to veto a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas deep water port near Long Beach.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio still returns to his stomping grounds in Brooklyn, and is rarely seen on the Upper East Side, even though he lives there (in Gracie Mansion) now.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s early-rising ways are irking staffers at his company, now that he had made he return there.

Four years ago, New York was home to five producers of hard cider. Today there are 31, including 11 that opened in the past year under the state’s farm cidery law. The measure, which took effect in January 2014, offers tax advantages and other benefits to producers who use fruit exclusively grown in the state.

Christopher Porco, convicted of using an ax to kill his father and maim his mother as they slept in their Delmar home in 2004, has spent the better part of the past eight years trying locate the data that he may believe will prove his innocence.

Conservatives Back Donovan in NY-11

The state Conservative Party announced today it “enthusiastically” and officially voted at an executive committee meeting today to back Republican Staten Island DA Dan Donovan in the May 5 special election for the seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm.

“Dan Donovan will bring an extensive background in public service to Congress,” said Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar. “Like the Conservative Party, he is an advocate of pro-growth economic policies through tax cuts and spending caps.”

“And when it comes to foreign policy, Dan places America’s interests first backed by a strong national defense. I am very pleased the State Conservative Party has nominated him for election to Congress.”

Staten Island Conservative Chairman Harold J. Wagner, Jr. called Donovan “home grown,” a candidate who knows the district and its people.

“He has served his community for over 25 years with honor and distinction,” Wagner continued. “He possesses the political skills to navigate Washington and will know how to advocate for the 11th Congressional District. Knowing Dan for a long time, I have always found him to be attentive to his constituents, and I believe he will reflect the will of the people.”

State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long also cited his longstanding relationship with Donovan, and said he believed the DA’s “knowledge of the issues will be his strength” in representing the district in D.C.

The state Conservative Party backed Donovan in his failed state AG bid in 2010 against the current Democratic incumbent (but then state senator) Eric Scheniderman. In fact, the Conservatives endorsed Donovan even before his own party did, holding their state convention in late May, while the Republicans gathered a few days later (in early June).

Donovan hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with the local Conservative Party, however, In 2011, the Staten Island Democrats snubbed Donovan, endorsing Democrat Michael Ryan rather than the incumbent DA, who was seeking a third term.

The move was widely seen as the result of Donovan’s falling out with his onetime mentor, former Staten Island BP Jim Molinaro, which was caused by the DA’s call for a special prosecutor in a 2006 case involving Molinaro’s grandson. The borough president denied that charge, though he personally backed Ryan as well.

Donovan handily won re-election in the 2011 November general election, defeating Ryan by a wider margin than he had four years earlier, even though he lacked the Conservative line.

The Republicans picked Donovan, who is perhaps best known as the prosecutor in the Eric Garner case, as their candidate to replace Grimm long before Gov. Andrew Cuomo even called the special election. (Actually, Cuomo’s hand was forced by a lawsuit).

After seeing their preferred candidates – former Rep. Michael McMahon and Assemblyman Michael Cusick – take a pass on the race, the Democrats just recently settled on Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile as their candidate.

Extras

RIP Leonard Nimoy, who was best known as Spock, but was also a talented photographer.

President Obama “loved Spock,” and greeted Nimoy with the Vulcan salute when the two met in 2007.

Politicans weighed in on the “what color is that dress” controversy. Not surprisingly, they’re divided.

It looks like Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be the first to travel to Cuba since the US started normalizing relations with the country after all.

“This is the world we live in. If Preet can make a case against Silver, he can make a case against Cuomo.”

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. said considering the DREAM Act apart from the state budget will hurt its chances of passage. “I think that Carl Heastie and the Assembly have killed the DREAM Act again,” he said.

The Public Service Commission is now scheduled to vote on the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast next month. The vote should happen by March 19.

Mort Zuckerman might sell the Daily News, but his other media property, US News & World Report, is not for sale.

Observer Media has rebranded The New York Observer’s website as “The Observer.”

The Cuomo administration’s top labor negotiator said the state budget does not contain a reserve to pay for higher wage and benefits that might accompany PEF’s expiring contract.

A longtime town court judge in Oswego County has taken a leave of absence from the bench as his bosses investigate the court’s activities.

The state still doesn’t have a database for background checks on ammunition sales that was part of New York’s controversial gun-control law in 2013.

Former Gov. David Paterson said that his popularity ratings slid as a result of Saturday Night Live sketches that made fun of his visual impairment.

This year, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tax bill on his $1.41 million Park Slope townhome will total nearly $2,900. A few miles away in Borough Park, the owner of a home similarly valued at $1.42 million will have to pay more than $15,000.

The state Department of Labor and local authorities in Schenectady arrested an IRS employee for allegedly getting unemployment and social services benefits she wasn’t entitled to.

Congratulations to NY1’s Bob Hardt for hitting the 140-pound mark.

You think you’ve got cold weather problems? Consider the plight of the dairy farmer.

Ladies and gentleman, Carl Paladino.

Violating Albany’s Prime Directive

With apologies to the late Mr. Spock, an anonymous Cuomo administration official today violated Albany’s prime directive: The Bear Mountain Compact.

The so-called agreement for so-called gentlemen in Albany basically requires that anything that happens in Albany stays in Albany, be it extramarital affairs, debauchery, drunkenness, etc.

The staffer was reacting to a Republican-backed bill that appears to be a thinly veiled effort to troll Cuomo in his bedroom: The measure would require financial disclosure from non-relatives who live with state officials, i.e., the governor’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

A Cuomo administration official told myself and several others: “It’s an interesting concept – if the bill’s anonymous sponsor ever comes forward, we may suggest expanding it to include all girlfriends, even those of married members.”

The quote is a clever one, but it’s also something of a threat delivered with a clenched-teeth smile.

To be sure, a lot of bad behavior has occurred (and likely continues to) in Albany for decades. On the surface, there’s an effort on the part by lawmakers and their colleagues to keep it a secret (see Lopez, Vito and Silver, Sheldon).

The press, historically, helped play a role in keeping extramarital affairs a secret, most notably with Nelson Rockefeller’s dalliances.

Consider, however, that two state lawmakers in recent years sought to help federal prosecutors by wearing a wire in order to get the goods on their colleagues and obtain some leniency.

Consider how easy — through the recording of a bathroom-stall cell phone video, archived Google chats and a reputation for bullying behavior — a trio of now-former state lawmakers made it for their victims to make sexual harassment complaints.

Consider, too, how easy it is for any state lawmakers to say something blunt or innuendo-laden on social media.

In other words, Albany may be a town of secrets, but in this day and age it’s a lot easier for those secrets to get out.

DeFran On Cuomo’s ‘Bizarre Approach’ On Education Aid

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco sharply criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approach on education spending in this year’s $142 billion budget proposal “bizarre” and said it risked an on-time spending plan.

“That’s going to stop the consecutive on-time budget process,” DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, said on The Capitol Pressroom. “You don’t have an all or nothing situation and you don’t say I’m not going to negotiate. I think this is sort of a bizarre approach when we’ve gotten the four on-time budgets working in a cooperative way.”

Cuomo is linking up to $1.1 billion in new spending for education to enacting a number of his education reform proposals, including lifting the cap on charter schools and a new, more stringent teacher evaluation process.

The policy proposals have led to considerable consternation from the state’s teachers unions, who have ratcheted up their rhetoric in recent weeks claiming the governor is pursuing anti-teacher policies.

But Cuomo has defended his proposals, saying he wants to reward good teachers even as he wants to remove poor performing teachers from the classroom. Cuomo has also pushed a plan that would make it easier for the state to takeover a failing school.

At the same time, Cuomo has declined to release school aid runs — individual spending targets for school districts, which is a break with past practice.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” DeFrancisco said. “School districts have to plan their day, but we’re going to say we’re not even going to tell you what you get.”

Of course, Cuomo isn’t just linking education policy to spending. He has tied new income disclosure requirements to capital spending, as well as requiring receipts for travel reimbursement.

DeFrancisco added that it’s going to be up to the governor himself as to whether a budget will be approved before April 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

“It all depends on if the governor is going to be firm on these conditions,” he said.

The pace of negotiations are expected to pick up next week and Cuomo on Wednesday held his first leaders meeting with Senate leaders Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“It all depends on practical negotiations,” DeFrancisco said. “I don’t see why we can’t get there, but I don’t see if the governor is going to back off those conditions.”

With Some Snark, Cuomo Administration Reacts To Senate GOP Ethics Proposal

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Friday reacted to a bill that would require income disclosure of non-relatives who live with state officials.

The bill, submitted quietly by Senate Republicans on Thursday evening, would apply to Cuomo’s live-in girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

A Republican spokeswoman insisted in a statement that the bill was not targeting the Food Network star specifically, even if she would still be impacted by it.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa, meanwhile, took a dig at the anonymous sponsorship of the bill, which was submitted to the Rules Committee without a formal sponsor.

“We’re happy to review any ethics proposal with the bill’s sponsor, whoever that may be,” DeRosa said.

Meanwhile, a separate administration official threw even more chin music toward lawmakers.

“It’s an interesting concept – if the bill’s anonymous sponsor ever comes forward, we may suggest expanding it to include all girlfriends, even those of married members,” the official said.

Sheriffs Urge Juvenile Justice Reform

A group of Republican and Democratic sheriffs from around the state on Friday urged state leaders to adopt a package of reforms to the juvenile justice system.

In letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to adopt the proposed changes, which include at the centerpiece a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

“Under the proposed legislation, the most serious offenders will continue to be prosecuted in the adult criminal courts. However, instead of using the same unsuccessful “one size fits all” solutions, the proposal before you calls for the creation of special Youth Parts of the adult courts that would offer appropriate sentences and services for young people, including incarceration,” the sheriffs wrote in the letter.

The reforms were first proposed by a panel convened last year by Cuomo also include changes to arrest procedures, removing youth from prisons that include adults and an expansion of services that would provide assistance to juveniles after their release.

The hope is the reforms will lead to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system.

Those of us working in law enforcement know that these are the reforms New York desperately needs,” the letter states. “The public safety benefits to raising the age are overwhelming. Under the current system, youth housed in adult facilities are more likely to encounter criminal influences that will lead them to a permanent life of crime.”

Signing on to the letter: Sheriffs Craig Apple, Robert Maciol, Michael H. Zurlo, Colleen O’Neill, Barry Virts, Allen Riley, Ernest Cutting, Vincent DeMarco and Peter Convery.

Juvenile Justice Reform Letter by Nick Reisman