Nick Reisman

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Young, Phillips Bill Aims To Strengthen Sexual Harassment Laws

Two Republicans in the state Senate on Friday announced proposals aimed at strengthening the state’s sexual harassment laws that would include banning confidential settlements, enshrining the definition of sexual harassment in law and expanding protections for independent contractors.

The measures were announced by Sens. Cathy Young and Elaine Phillips and come amid a flood of harassment accusations leveled against powerful men in the media, entertainment and politics.

“Our nation is at a defining moment with respect to the issue of sexual harassment,” Young said in a statement.

“In the last two months, dozens of courageous individuals have come forward to share painful stories of harassment and abuse they suffered at the hands of those in positions of power. Nearly all of these women and men have been silent for years, either as a result of intimidation by their abusers, or because of the humiliation associated with the abuse – or a combination of both. With each new revelation, our shock grows at the apparent pervasiveness of this problem along with our resolve to take action.”

The package of measures comes also as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would likely propose efforts to clamp down on harassment in state government and elsewhere in society, including the possibility of forcing publicly traded companies to reveal settlements to their shareholders.

Albany has had its own sexual harassment cases in recent years and some lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, want a uniform policy for handling allegations. The state Legislature has spent heavily on lawyers in recent years to handle accusations.

“There is no place in our government, or society as a whole, for sexual assault or harassment,” Phillips said. “It is inspiring to see the movement of women and men across our country coming forward, sharing their personal stories, and overcoming the stigma and shame brought on by the inappropriate actions of others. The dialogue must continue and as elected officials we must do all possible, to protect those who have been forced to carry the burden of harassment out of fear for their future.”

The bill would would end mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment complaints, which the lawmakers said can be used by employers to block legal action taken by victims.

Adding the definition of sexual harassment into state law would bolster its current status as a definition under the state Division of Human Rights, but it is only used administratively.

Cuomo Gets A Star-Studded Birthday Celebration (And A Corvette Cake)

image1The 60th birthday bash for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday at Cipriani in New York City was a star-studded affair, with celebrities from the entertainment world and bold-faced names for politics and labor there to fete him.

And, to top it off, the gear head governor was presented with a cake in the shape of a Corvette Stingray.

Tickets to the fundraiser for Cuomo’s re-election went as high as $15,000.

Among the 900 people in attendance were Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and the event included a video from the cast of Saturday Night Live, which featured Steve Martin and Lorne Michaels (SNL and Fallon’s Tonight Show, both on NBC, have benefited from the state’s tax credit program aimed at encouraging movie and TV production in New York).

Actress Brooke Shields and singer (and Cuomo friend) Billy Joel were also there. Singer Andra Day gave a rendition of the song “Rise Up” dedicated to Cuomo.

“The entire political world turned up to toast the Goveror’s birthday — if ever there was a question going into next year of where people are, it was clear everyone is behind the governor,” said a source in attendance.

Former President Bill Clinton praised Cuomo’s push for the federal government to help Puerto Rico and the work the state has done there, upstate economic development, as well as the passage of paid-family leave and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2011.

Speaking of Cuomo, Clinton joked, “If you think he’s a force at 60, you should have seen it 35.”

A range of political figures attended the event or put in an appearance, including Reps. Joe Crowley, Nydia Velazquez, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffried, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and New York City Comptroller Scott String. From the Legislature, Sens. Geroge Latimer, Andrea Lanza and Brad Hoylman attended as did Assembly lawmakers Nick Perry, Helene Weinstein and Majority Leader Joe Morelle.

Former Gov. David Paterson and ex-New York City Mayor David Dinkins were there, as was former Rep. Charlie Rangel.

Virtually every major labor leader attended or stopped by the event, including 1199’s George Gresham, NYSUT President Andy Pallota, HTC President Peter Ward and Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence.

Actor Michael Imperioli, who plays Cuomo in an upcoming Showtime miniseries dramatizing the Dannemora prison break of 2015, poked fun at the governor’s hard-charging personality.

“As some of you may know, I’m going to be playing the part of Governor Cuomo in an upcoming movie that is directed by Ben Stiller,” he said. “I played a lot of parts – this one is unique, this one is difficult. It takes me about four and a half hours to do hair and makeup to look as good as the governor, but I’m going to get that down.”

He also praised Cuomo’s handling of the escape and subsequent manhunt and urged him to run for president.

“Next year, when you are running for your third term as Governor of new York, when you go to the polling place to cast your vote, promise me you will not ride there on horseback,” he said. “I’ll drive you personally. Second, New York’s loss will be the gain of the entire free world, please run for president. Peace and happy birthday.”

Lawmakers Want To Expand Enhance Tuition Awards To For-Profit Schools

Two state lawmakers on Friday pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to expand the Enhanced Tuition Award to students who attend proprietary, or for-profit, colleges in the state.

Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Victor Pichardo with the Association of Proprietary Colleges backed the expansion, which would give access to the grant to 40,000 students earning degrees at all levels.

“I’m proud that college affordability topped our list of priorities last year, but we cannot leave any student behind,” Klein said. “Those studying at proprietary colleges receive the same degree that they would receive if they opted to go to another college and those students deserve financial aid parity. I urge Governor Cuomo to sign my legislation into law.”

The colleges include institutions like Berkeley College, the College of Westchester and the School of Visual Arts. There are dozen of these colleges spread over 23 campuses in New York. The vast majority of the students at these schools are women, some 70 percent, and 41 percent are black or Hispanic.

“As the costs of higher education continue to climb, it’s essential that we expand scholarship programs so that every New Yorker has the opportunity to earn a college degree. Under current law, however, students at proprietary colleges aren’t eligible for Enhanced Tuition Awards, a clear inequity that needs to be corrected,” Pichardo said.

“That’s why Senator Klein and I passed legislation to ensure these students can take full advantage of the state’s scholarship and college opportunity programs. The measure passed both legislative chambers with strong bipartisan support, and I urge the governor to sign this bill into law as soon as possible.”

Barkan Blasts Golden Over Crash That Put Woman In Coma

Democratic state Senate candidate Ross Barkan in a fundraising email blasted Republican incumbent Marty Golden after The Daily News reported the lawmaker in 2005 was the driver in a crash the led to a woman in a coma that resulted in a large settlement to her family.

Golden had later paid the woman’s estate $750,000 to settle the matter. A Golden spokesman told The Daily News that the crash was a “terrible accident.”

Golden’s driving record, and his record on traffic issues in New York City writ large, are under scrutiny after his run-in as a passenger with a well-known bike advocate in Brooklyn. Golden is accused of impersonating a police officer, which he denies and insisted the cyclist, Brian Howland, was to blame.

In the fundraising email, Barkan writes he’s not surprised by these stories.

“The other day, a reporter asked me if I was surprised by Golden’s behavior,” he wrote. “He’s been my state senator for much of my life, so I answered honestly: no. The problem is, not enough people yet know how Golden has failed Southern Brooklyn.

I am running against him on my own record and vision. I believe in actually fixing our public transportation and keeping people safe.”

Unshackle Upstate Urges Albany To Hold Line On Taxes

From the Morning Memo:

The Rochester-based business group Unshackle Upstate’s 2018 agenda urges state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hold the line on tax increases and reduce regulations in the new year.

The group’s agenda comes amid what is expected to be a challenging budget year for Albany that includes a $4.6 billion budget deficit and the looming impact of a cap on deductions of state, local and property taxes.

“The proposals contained in our 2018 agenda can help New York address its multi-billion dollar deficit without adding to taxpayers’ burden. By holding the line on spending, reforming regulations that drive up the cost of construction and development, and promoting private-sector job growth, Albany’s leaders can get the state budget back on track,” said Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate.

“New York faces serious fiscal challenges in 2018 and beyond, but the last thing Upstate’s economy, its employers or its residents can endure are any additions to our already suffocating tax climate.”

The group wants Albany to oppose any new or expansion of existing taxes, reduce state spending and institute long-sought reforms for the prevailing wage and Scaffold Law.

And the group wants to see the state’s cap on property tax increases — limited to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower — made permanent.

“Unshackle Upstate has worked for a decade to address challenges faced by Upstate New York businesses and residents,” said Bob Duffy, the former lieutenant governor and the president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

“This agenda addresses many of the concerns Rochester Chamber hears from its members on a regular basis. Working with partners like Unshackle Upstate helps Rochester Chamber grow the voice of our region’s employers and taxpayers while focusing on improving the Finger Lakes region’s economic future.”

Here And Now

Good morning and TGIF! Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with nothing public planned. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is making several media-related appearances and attend a holiday party for 1199 SEIU.

Your schedule:

At 10 a.m., Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will announce new jobs at Strategic Financial, 115 Lawrence Bell Drive, Amherst.

Also at 10 a.m., de Blasio will make an appearance on WNYC.

At 10:30 a.m., the Assembly will hold a public hearing to review and assess the impact of funding in the 2017-2018 SFY Budget for the Department of Transportation. Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

Also at 10:30 a.m., Rep. Joe Crowley, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and others will hold a news conference to announce that large trucks will be allowed on the Grand Central Parkway between the BQE and RFK Bridge. Big trucks will no longer be forced to detour onto Astoria’s local streets. Columbus Triangle, Astoria Blvd. South & 31st Street, Queens.

At 1:45 p.m., Hochul will make a joint appearance with Rep. Louise Slaughter to discuss the Republican tax plan in Congress, Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, B-340, 3120 Federal Building, 100 State St., Rochester.

At 4:15 p.m., Hochul will tour the USS Little Rock, Canalside, Buffalo (this is closed press).

At 5:45 p.m., Hochul will attend the Little Rock commissioning ceremony, Hyatt Regency Buffalo Hotel and Conference Center, 2 Fountain Plaza, Buffalo.

Headlines:

Republicans in Congress are still trying to find ways to pay for their $1 trillion tax cut and keep lawmakers on board for the overhaul package before the end of the year.

One alarm bell that sounded Thursday was the possible defection of Sen. Marco Rubio from voting yes on the tax bill, putting the measure in peril.

President Trump touted his administration’s efforts to rollback regulations in its first year, even going as far as literally cutting red tape to highlight the effort.

U.S. Senate Republicans are trying to shield special counsel Robert Mueller from increasing criticism that his probe of Russian interference is politically motivated.

Supporters of Republican Roy Moore are searching for evidence of voter fraud in his loss in the Alabama Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones as the White House is calling on him to concede.

There’s good news for retailers as it appears Americans are spending more this holiday season than they did last year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan sought to rebut a report in Politico that’s considering leaving Congress at the end of 2018 or after the tax bill is completed.

States attorney general are suing the U.S. Department of Education over delays in loan forgiveness.

A NY1/Baruch College Poll finds 59 percent of voters statewide believe the sexual harassment charges, versus just 23 percent who don’t.

The same poll asked New Yorkers whether U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand should run for president in 2020.

A sexual harassment complaint was filed against New York City Councilman Andy King last week, according to sources, bringing a national reckoning to the corridors of City Hall.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned 60 last week, but he celebrated his birthday Thursday night in a style that is favored by many politicians: by holding a fundraiser. But there were also some party crashers. And while the governor is often targeted by protesters, this year there is a new angle involving the State Senate.

Protesters also picketed outside of the fundraiser of Rep. Lee Zeldin, which was headlined by former White House advisor Steve Bannon.

No longer receiving casino revenues, lawmakers in the city of Niagara Falls have struggled to close the budget gap.

In Michelle Schoeneman’s eyes, Rep. Chris Collins is giving to the wrong group this holiday season. For the second time this year, Schoeneman has paid for a billboard questioning Collins’ support of policies she believes are detrimental to Western New Yorkers.

For those who haven’t gotten their flu shot yet, now would be a good time. There are now 100 confirmed cases of the flu in Monroe County, this time last year the county had 14.

Ride-hailing is a service drivers say is becoming increasingly popular during winter weather conditions like those the arena experienced Wednesday.

New opportunities are on the horizon for refugees and immigrants in the Utica area. The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is one of the organizations chosen to receive grant funding through the Regional Economic Development Council awards.

The gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to lose their guns.

The state Court of Appeals in a ruling Thursday found judges will now be required to instruct juries that witness identifications of suspects of a different race is less reliable than when people make IDs from their own race.

The court also ruled Thursday that wrongful birth lawsuits can begin the moment a child is born.

Officials in New York and New Jersey through Govs. Cuomo and Christie announced a deal to fully fund the Gateway Tunnel project had been formally agreed to.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is urging the state to change its borrowing practices after finding its debt load is the second highest among states in the country.

A state-backed outreach center for those struggling with substance abuse has opened in the Bronx.

The NYPD is investigating sexual assault claims against hip hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons.

A Daily News reporter was arrested after walking into a hospital and presenting himself as a friend of the family of a patient there in order to get an interview and then fled the scene when questioned by security.

Some New Yorkers are lining up early to pay their 2018 property taxes so they can deduct them now before the Republican tax plan is put in place.

(FYI, a $10,000 cap on state, local and property tax deductions is included in the agreed-to version of the final bill).

State grants are boosting historic sites in Capital Region river towns Troy and Cohoes.

A crash that occurred on the new Tappan Zee Bridge (officially the Mario Cuomo Bridge) shouldn’t be repeated in the future based on the plans to change its current configuration.

The Cuomo administration plans to file a legal challenge should the federal government declare the project to dredge PCBs from the Hudson River over.

How U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley became a major force in New York City politics, as his star is also rising in Washington.

Gillibrand Proposes New Rules For Sexual Harassment Reporting In Congress

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was among the group of Republicans and Democrats on Thursday to unveil a package changes to sexual harassment reporting in Congress.

The changes, which include an end to secret settlements involving members of Congress unless a victim requests they be kept private, comes amid a firestorm of allegations of sexual harassment leveled against powerful men across a variety of industries.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken announced this month he will leave office in the coming weeks after he was accused of groping and forcibly kissing multiple women. Democratic Rep. John Conyers resigned after it was revealed he settled a sexual harassment claim, while Republican Reps. Trent Franks has resigned and Blake Farenthold has said he will not seek re-election.

“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” Gillibrand said.

“We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place. There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”

The legislation also extends protections to congressional interns and fellows. Members of Congress found personally liable for harassment or discrimination will be responsible for paying the cost of a settlement and it must be approved by the Senate or House Ethics Committee.

Everyone who works on Capitol Hill will also be required to take harassment and discrimination training, including lawmakers.

The changes come as Gillibrand called on Franken to resign from office and, days later, called on President Trump to do the same amid allegations he has harassed and assaulted women.

In New York, where sexual harassment cases involving state lawmakers have occurred over the years, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef has called for a revised, uniform policy for sexual harassment cases.

Cuomo Threatens Legal Challenge If Hudson PCB Cleanup Ends

New York will move to file a legal challenge against the federal Environmental Protection Agency if it determines the project to remove PCB-laden muck from the Hudson River is completed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced.

The proposal was packaged as part of the governor’s 2018 State of the State agenda. The EPA is expected to make its determination on the finality of the project by the end of the month with the filing of what’s known as a certificate of completion.

The lawsuit would be filed in cooperation with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Cuomo’s office said.

“The Hudson River is a critical economic engine and environmental treasure and New York will not allow PCB contamination to continue wreaking havoc on this vital resource,” Cuomo said.

“The data is clear: the job is not done and the EPA cannot declare that this remediation is complete. If they do, New York will take any action necessary to hold them accountable for ensuring our waterways are protected and properly restored.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo is also called on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to end the state’s concurrence with a 2002 record of decision that had been entered into with the federal government as part of the massive cleanup project.

The cleanup of PCB-contaminated sediment was paid for by General Electric Co. after the federal government ordered the project for the upper Hudson River, based about an hour north of Albany.

“EPA is working to complete the five-year review report and our review of, and responses to, the comments that we received during the public comment period on the proposed report,” said EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski. “We do not anticipate finalizing the report and response to comments before the end of December. However, we intend to issue the report before we make a final determination on GE’s request for certification of completion of the remedial action.”

DiNapoli Sounds Debt Alarm

The state’s debt is expected to hit nearly $64 billion at the end of March and soar to $71.8 billion in the next four years — making it the second-highest debt load among the states in the country, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Thursday warned in a report.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration pushed back on the report, insisting in a state released by its budget office that the state’s debt actually declined.

DiNapoli’s report pointed to a combination of state-funded, voter-approved and state supported debt as well as debt taken on by entities like the Dormitory Authority, all of which have increased. Of those, what has declined is voter-approved debt, expected to reach $2.46 billion, a 6.1 percent decrease from 10 years ago.

When combined, however, those debt loads are expected to reach $63.7 billion by March 31 of next year, the final day of the fiscal year in New York.

“New York faces tremendous infrastructure challenges and the wise use of debt can be an essential part of the financing picture,” DiNapoli said. “Still, backdoor borrowing imposes significant costs on taxpayers, lacks transparency and may limit flexibility in providing important services and programs. My debt reform proposal would help ensure effective capital planning and manageable debt levels.”

The current per capita debt for the state is $3,116, or three times the median in all states. Annual debt service payments are projected to be mroe than $8.2 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The state does have a borrowing cap, but it’s expected to shrink to $58 billion by the 2020-21 fiscal year.

New York’s debt load is second only to California’s $87 billion, the report found. As a percent of personal income, it’s at 5.1 percent, second only to New Jersey.

The Division of Budget, an arm of the Cuomo administration, pushed back on the report’s findings.

“This report does not adhere to generally accepted accounting principles and includes debt that is not recognized as the responsibility of the State on OSC’s own financial statements,” said spokesman Morris Peters. “The fact is, New York’s debt has declined for five consecutive years for the first time in history and our debt to personal income ratio is at the lowest level since the 1960s.”

The report backed an amendment to the state’s constitution that would limit state-funded debt to 5 percent of personal income within the next 10 years in order to appropriately plan for the reduction.

Another amendment should ban the issuing of state-funded debt by public authorities and other similar entities.

And DiNapoli believes the state should create a council to study capital assets and infrastructure that monitors public authorities.

Debt Impact Study 2017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Schneiderman To Sue Over Net Neutrality Rollback

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will lead a multi-state legal challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of net neutrality regulations, approved Thursday in a party line vote.

“The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet,” Schneiderman said.

“The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.”

The rollback changes regulations dating to President Barack Obama’s administration and some tech companies like Netflix, Facebook and Google fear it could lead to a tiered Internet in which some lanes for certain websites and streaming services move faster than others, with faster lanes costing more.

The changes also come amid a period of major consolidation and upheaval in the media industry as streaming services have presented new challenges to more established pay TV providers.

Schneiderman’s office has also raised concerns with the the public comments posted on the FCC’s website on the net neutrality issue, with up to two million based on stolen identities of people who never made them, including more than 100,000 comments from states like New York, Florida, Texas, and California.