Nick Reisman

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Recommendations Made To Address Sexual Harassment In State Government

From the Morning Memo:

A working group comprised of women who have experienced or witnesses sexual harassment or abuse in state government on Tuesday released a package of proposals designed to address the problem.

The proposals released by the Sexual Harassment Working Group include a bolstering of workplace protections for survivors that would change the anti-discrimination clause in the state constitution to include sex and gender as protected classes.

At the same time, the definition of terms like employer and employee in the Human Rights Law would be included, explicitly including legislative staff in the law as a result.

The group also wants to see the adoption of a more reasonable burden of proof for victims and survivors of harassment or discrimination by updating language.

Another recommendation would crewe an indecent Division of Human Rights and increase protections for victims seeking a redress of damages by adding personal liability for discrimination and protections against coercion as well as a “sunshine-in-litigation” law.

Term limits to file complaints should also be increased, the group found.

The proposals come amid a societal reckoning and reorientation surrounding sexual assault and abuse which has also impacted Albany.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in May after accusations from multiple women of physical abuse and mistreatment.

Sen. Jeff Klein, the deputy minority leader in the state Senate, has been accused of forcibly kissing a former staffer in a 2015 incident. Klein has denied any wrongdoing and called for an investigation into the allegation made by Erica Vladimer, who was included in the working group’s recommendations.

Women who have made allegations against lawmakers like the late Assemblyman Vito Lopez were also included in the working group, as is Elizabeth Carruthers, who accused Michael Boxley, a former staffer to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, of rape.

“Isn’t protecting workers from assault and harassment worth discussing more than once a quarter-century? The old laws have not sufficiently protected New Yorkers for decades and recent attempts to fix that have been haphazard at best,” said the Sexual Harassment Working Group in a statement.

“A new process that takes into account the knowledge and experience of employment lawyers, advocates, and survivors themselves is crucial for creating laws that actually protect people, instead of mazes of bureaucracy where people can be dissuaded, scared off, or forgotten. New York must remedy out-of-date, rushed, and insufficient protections for survivors of workplace harassment and abuse now.”

With Buffalo Billion Trial Underway, Transparency Bills Sputter

A bid rigging trial began this week in New York City, a trial that includes prominent upstate developers and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, taking on pay-to-play charges from a major economic development program for upstate New York.


Two hundred miles north, the legislative session in Albany is ending without final passage of any transparency or anti-corruption measures.

“One would think that as a result of the trial now having started in Manhattan that there would be greater interest,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from western New York who is backing the measures in his chamber. “I think there is many quarters, but there are also those who do not wish to poke the bear.”

The bills would create new transparency and oversight requirements for economic development and contract spending in New York. In an interview, Schimminger said it’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo who doesn’t want to see the measures approved.

“There is a reluctance to displease the governor,” Schimminger said. “The governor does not want these bills moved. It’s as simple as that.”

Cuomo has called for oversight changes, but the measures never gained any traction in Assembly. On Tuesday, the governor virtually threw in the towel on the remainder of the session.

“The issues that are left on the table, which have been left on the table since April when we couldn’t resolved them, are fundamental philosophical differences,” Cuomo said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

Meanwhile, former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner launched her independent bid for governor. A Democrat and former state committee co-chair, Miner says she is basing her campaign in large part around the corruption issues that have plagued state government in recent years.

“My path to winning is to say to voters who are dissatisfied with the status quo and people who think that corruption, the culture of corruption, is a formidable problem in Albany,” Miner said.

Ethics legislation hasn’t always died on the legislative vine in Albany. Lawmakers have approved a reform package virtually every year Cuomo has been governor.

Legislature Approves Prosecutor Oversight Panel, Heads To Cuomo’s Desk

A bill that would create a commission overseeing the conduct of local prosecutors won final passage in the Legislature on Tuesday over the objections of the state district attorneys’ association.

The bill would create a panel similar to the Judicial Conduct Commission, reviewing the actions of local district attorneys. The measure received a surprising swell of bipartisan backing in both chambers — an unusual development for a Legislature often split on criminal justice issues.

The commission would not have the superseding power of removing prosecutors from office; a power that is constitutionally vested in the governor’s office.

The bill is backed by Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse who is set to retire at the end of the year.

In an interview, he said local prosecutors should not feel threatened by the bill, but see the commission as an effort to “weed out” bad actors.

“I don’t know how many cases people have to see where an individual spends years in jail and they later find out by DNA evidence that person was wrongfully convicted because of illegally withheld evidence,” he said. “There has to be some accountability.”

Democratic Assemblyman Nick Perry, too, dismissed concerns that had been raised by the District Attorneys Association of New York, saying judges had raised similar issues when a conduct commission examining jurists’ behavior was approved.

“When we try to provide opportunities for the public to seek accountability in regards to people with a lot of power, that’s usually the response,” he said.

The measure now will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his consideration.

New York To Sue Federal Government Over Child Separation Policy

New York will file a lawsuit against the federal government’s policy of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday in a news conference call.

At the same time, Cuomo revealed at least 70 children separated from their families have been residing in 10 facilities contracted by the federal government in New York, including Dobbs Ferry, Lincondale, Kingston, Yonkers, the Bronx, Irvington and Syosett.

Cuomo called the policy of separating migrant families, some of whom are seeking asylum status in the United States “inhumane.”

“I am used to all kinds of political negotiations,” Cuomo said. “I’ve never seen children being used as a bargaining chip.”

It has not been determined where the lawsuit will be filed. But Cuomo said the challenge will rest on constitutionality claims, as well as a violation of existing law and that the federal government is engaging in “outrageous conduct.”

Cuomo also deeply criticized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s actions in New York, including incidents in Rome and New York City that saw the detentions of undocumented residents.

But Cuomo stopped short of calling for ICE to be completely abolished. Instead, the agency should be not be used as it has under President Donald Trump’s administration, which Cuomo said it has “transformed into a political police apparatus.”

The Trump administration has defended the practice of separating families, insisting at times the policy is based on an existing law that was approved a Democratic-controlled Congress and that the measure is an attempt to have lawmakers agree to funding a border wall.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo fired by Cuomo against the Trump administration’s policies in recent months that have had him sharply criticizing immigration enforcement efforts.

Nixon Makes Criminal Justice Reform Push As Session Ends

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon on Tuesday reiterated her push for criminal justice reform measures as the legislative session winds down in Albany.

Nixon, who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo this September, called for the passage of a bill creating a cashless bail system for New York.

She compared the two divergent stories of Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul accused of rape, and Kalief Browder, who committed suicide while awaiting trial at Rikers Island for stealing a backpack.

“One of them is Harvey Weinstein who is a wealthy white man accused of decades of sexual assault and rape. He walks free, because he can afford to pay his one-million-dollar bail,” Nixon said in a video released by her campaign.

“The other Kalief Browder who is a black, 16-year-old kid accused of stealing a backpack. His family can’t afford to pay his $3,000 bail. So he spends the next three years on Rikers Island, where he is beaten and placed in solitary confinement. All without ever being found guilty of a crime.”

She adds: “Thousands of New Yorkers are languishing in jail awaiting trial because of a cash bail system that punishes people for being poor. Tonight, those people will be sleeping in cages and Harvey Weinstein will be sleeping in his own bed.”

The video comes as she plans to rally with advocates in New York City later on Tuesday in recognition of Juneteenth, commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The session is due to end on Wednesday at the Capitol, and it is unlikely a criminal justice reform bill will be agreed to in the next day and a half.

Cuomo Challenges Pence On Immigration During NY Trip

Gov. Andrew Cuomo chided Vice President Mike Pence over the Trump administration’s immigration policies as he fundraises in central New York on Tuesday for Rep. John Katko.

In a letter to Pence, Cuomo referenced the vice president’s own heritage and immigrant grandfather.

“Today this nation’s commitment to openness and tolerance is under siege by your administration,” Cuomo said. “Your policy of ripping children from their parents is a moral outrage and an assault on the values that built this state and this nation. This policy makes it very clear you have forgotten what made America great.”

Cuomo has blasted the Trump administration’s immigration policies over the last year and a half as the issue comes to a crisis level stemming from border enforcement agents separating families. The Trump administration has falsely blamed Democrats for the policy while insisting it is following a pre-existing law.

“If the parents’ anguish does not compel you to end this policy, then the children’s plight must,” Cuomo said. “I have heard the terrifying sobs of the children separated from their parents. And I know that your administration’s actions will have devastating long-term consequences for these children. Research and common-sense point to the developmental effects of depriving children of their parents. Such a traumatic experience can in fact trigger irreversible physical and psychological harm.”

At the same time, Cuomo continued to knock immigration enforcement efforts in New York, including the detention of an undocumented man in New York after delivering a pizza to a military base.

“I have already expressed my grave concerns with this administration’s anti-immigrant tactics, including when I requested the Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General to investigate their discriminatory tactics in our state and called on him to tell us what his office is doing about the assault on immigrant families along the border,” Cuomo said. “And I will continue to fight to defend our American values and protect the rights of all New Yorkers.”

Miner Says She’d Tackle Corruption, Not Play A Spoiler

Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is making public corruption a centerpiece of her campaign for governor — promising a civil discussion of the issues without name calling.

And, she insists, she’s not playing spoiler for the Republicans.

“My path to winning is to say to voters who are dissatisfied with the status quo and people who think corruption, the culture of corruption, is a formidable problem in Albany and the cost that all New Yorkers pay is too high,” she said. “I’m running on the outside to say we can disrupt this and have real, meaningful change.”

Miner is running an independent bid for governor, challenging both Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and presumptive GOP nominee.

Her candidacy in large part is built around a bipartisan push against corruption, launched as prominent developers from upstate New York and the former president of SUNY Polytechnic face a corruption trial related to the rigging of bids for economic development projects.

She is a former co-chairwoman of the state Democratic Committee, backed by Cuomo before their falling out over pension smoothing policy.

“I think we as New Yorkers will all benefit from the more voices and the more civic dialogue,” she said. “It’s about having a real discussion. The more people who are part of that process, the better off it is for all New Yorkers.”

She dismissed concerns that she would be spoiler potentially for Molinaro, calling it an insider matter. She would examine, scale back and potentially end economic development spending she says hasn’t helped the state, including a $400 million film tax credit program.

She is running on the Serve America Movement ballot line — an organization that includes Republicans. Asked about the Republican affiliation, Miner pointed to the backing and donations Cuomo has received from Republicans, including Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived White House communications director for President Donald Trump.

She wants to ban unlimited political giving through limited liability corporations, but for now is stopping short of pushing for public financing of political campaigns, calling it “one of the harder things” to get done.

For now, she will stay a registered Democrat and plans to write herself in for the September gubernatorial primary (she previously spoke to Cuomo’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon).

“We have to stop engaging in this name calling and partisanship and we also have to be honest what’s keeping us back: Naming calling and not talking about our problems,” she said.

DAs Push Back Against Prosecutorial Conduct Commission

Local prosecutors on Tuesday are make a last-ditch push against a bill that would create a commission on prosecutorial conduct.

The bill was approved in the Senate last week and is expected to receive a vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly later today.

In a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Oneida County District Scott McNamara pointed a Justice Task Force in February 2017 having found a commission examining prosecutorial conduct would create a “duplicative level of oversight” for locally elected prosecutors and be a costly burden to taxpayers.

“We acknowledge the power and discretion attending our responsibilities as prosecutors, but professional misconduct by any attorney–prosecutors, defense attorneys, securities lawyers, government attorneys— should be subject to robust investigation and discipline by competent, well-functioning Grievance Committees,” wrote McNamara, who is the head of the state District Attorneys Association of New York. “This problematic legislation does nothing to provide that. We encourage the Assembly to reject this legislation, and to work to remedy issues plaguing attorney discipline fairly and equitably, with the same rules, standards and process for all lawyers.”

The task force’s findings also backed the creation of a grievance committee that includes active attorneys who would be provided with specialized training on standards for criminal proceedings.

A5285C-S2412D by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Cuomo Praises Assembly Passage Of Bill Blocking Offshore Drilling

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the Assembly passage of a bill Monday evening that blocks offshore drilling in New York waters.

The measure, known as the Save Our Waters bill, would prohibit the leasing of New York lands, including those underwater, from offshore drilling and exploration, as well as drilling infrastructure.

In a statement to be released widely on Tuesday, Cuomo called the bill’s passage in the Assembly a “clear message to the federal government that there is no way we will ever allow offshore drilling in our state.”

“Offshore drilling is a dangerous threat to our environment and antithetical to our efforts in New York State to attract the jobs of tomorrow,” Cuomo said. “In New York, we are proud to be leading the way in the clean energy economy, including with our ambitious goal to source 50 percent of our energy from renewable energy like wind and solar by 2030. We’re not going backward, we’re going forward.”

Cuomo urged the Republican-controlled Senate to take up the bill “without delay” in the final two days of the legislative session. That’s easier said than done, however, given the 31-31 deadlock in the Senate hamstringing action on controversial bills over the last several weeks.

The bill, however, is especially of interest for communities on Long Island, both on the South Shore as well as the Long Island Sound.

“The federal government has launched an attack on our environment and it has New York’s coastal waters in its sights,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican—do your job to protect the people of New York.”

NY-19: NYS Nurses Association Endorses Rhodes

From the Morning Memo:

The New York State Nurses Association on Tuesday will announce its endorsement of Democratic congressional candidate Gareth Rhodes, a key union nod in the Democratic primary for the 19th district in the Hudson Valley.

“The New York State Nurses Association is proud to endorse Gareth Rhodes as the best candidate to take on Rep. John Faso and to fight for our members and all working families in Washington,” said Marva Wade, the PAC chairwoman of the association.

“Rhodes was born in Ulster County and has committed his life to the 19th District and serving the people of New York. He stands with labor and backs single-payer health care as well as safe staffing, advocates for common sense gun safety, fights for the environment and calls for greater investment in our schools. NYSNA is proud to stand with a candidate who stands up for working class New Yorkers.”

Rhdoes is a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeking the nod to compete head-to-head against Faso, a freshman Republican in what’s expected to be a top-tier House race this fall.

The endorsement is another labor nod for Rhodes, who has previously been given the backing of the Communication Workers of America as well as the Teamsters Local 445 and 456.

Rhodes over the weekend was endorsed by the editorial board of The New York Times.

Taken together, the endorsements could provide both an edge and a last-minute boost of momentum ahead of the coming primary on June 26.

“Nurses are on the frontlines of keeping our communities healthy and safe, and it’s an honor to have the endorsement of the New York State Nurses Association. I rallied with NYSNA in Albany when at least 2,200 nurses at Albany Medical Center became unionized, and I will fight every day for issues like safe staffing, health care for all, and to keep our hospitals open for care,” he said in a statement.