Nick Reisman

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Senate GOP Keeps Focus On School Safety In Gun Debate

While several Senate GOP lawmakers have expressed a willingness to back new gun control legislation such as tighter background checks and a ban bump stocks, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said his conference’s “primary focus” remains on strengthening school security.

“I think the primary focus that we’re looking at right now and I just had three or four meetings on the last couple of days on school security,” he told reporters Wednesday. “What are we doing for school resource officers? what are we doing to make sure that we have adequate information and protection? What kind of communication exists between government and school districts and things like that. When you to parents — my kids are grown now — but that’s the kind of things that people worry about.”

Democrats in the Assembly and Senate have pushed for new gun regulations after a high school shooting in Florida killed 17 people in February. On Wednesday, students across the country staged mass walkout demonstrations for stronger gun laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly pointed to the SAFE Act giving New York some of the strongest gun control measures in the country.

Still, in Albany, the gun debate has mirrored the national discussion on the issue as Republicans have sought measures that would provide more armed school resources officers as well as metal detectors to bolster school safety.

In the Assembly, Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie has said he would oppose bringing armed personnel into schools, but did not rule out additional safety measures.

Flanagan Doesn’t Close Door On Child Victims Act

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan told reporters Wednesday did not commit to the passage of the Child Victims Act this legislative session, but did not close the door on the measure that would make it easier for the survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussions,” Flanagan told reporters. “I’ve said before we’ll continue to have them.”

The measure has been pushed for the last decade at the Capitol to little avail in the Senate as lawmakers there have raised concerns over a one-year look back window for old cases of abuse.

Senate Republicans on Thursday submitted a budget resolution that left the door open to the bill being included in the budget, but did not offer specifics in the same vein as Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the Democratic-led Assembly in their spending plan proposals.

“We have to be talking to hospitals, nursing homes, school districts, the public sector and the private sector,” he said. “The ramifications are of such a magnitude that we have to take our time and be judicious and do it properly.”

Republicans are under increasing pressure to have the bill approved this year with the inclusion of the one-year look back. Flanagan wouldn’t rule out the provision being included in the final agreement.

“I don’t rule out anything unless it’s the will and desire of our conference,” he said.

Lawmakers were pressed to back the bill by advocates at the Capitol, including actor Corey Feldman, himself a survivor of sexual abuse.

“Don’t let party lines divide us. This is a bipartisan issue. We need to come together to fight for the rights of our children,” Feldman said in an interview with Spectrum News.

Advocates for the bill hope this year will be different in Albany given the societal shift and reckoning surrounding sexual abuse and misconduct.

Molinaro Plans April 2 Campaign Roll Out

Republican Marc Molinaro will formally roll out his campaign on April 2 as he seeks the gubernatorial nomination to take on Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

His campaign announced the April 2 launch date on Thursday, a day after Cuomo’s former close aide was found guilty on three counts of corruption.

“Yesterday’s verdict is an indictment, not just of one of man, but of the cynical systematic corruption within in a state government Governor Cuomo has led,” Molinaro’s campaign said. “New Yorkers deserve better. Now more than at any time in our lifetime, New Yorkers need new leadership in the Capitol, which is why I am a candidate for Governor.”

Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, also announced day-to-day press work would be handled by Katherine Delgado, a former aide to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the party’s 2014 nominee.

Molinaro last month previously signaled to Republican officials he would run after initially declaring in January he would not seek statewide office this year.

In recent weeks, Molinaro has racked up a series of endorsements, counting more than 40 percent of the weighted vote needed for the party’s designation status.

Molinaro is competing for the nod with Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco and former Pataki official Joe Holland.

Senate Rejects Tax Hikes, Push School Safety Spending

The budget resolution backed by Republicans in the state Senate on Thursday rejects $1 billion in tax increases while also seeking to spend $265 million on fighting the opioid addiction epidemic and bolster school security in the wake of a high school shooting in Florida.

The package, which stands little chance to become law, is being passed Thursday by the Senate as Democrats in the Assembly approve their own version. It’s a perfunctory, but key step in the process toward developing a state budget agreement, scheduled by lawmakers to pass this year by March 29.

The Senate budget resolution would reject Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed cap on STAR property tax rebates and wants to expand the program while also freezing tax increases on the local level for seniors while phasing it out over the next decade.

“Our focus continues to be on making New York more affordable for hardworking taxpayers, creating jobs and more economic opportunities, and enhancing the security and quality of life for our residents,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

“This budget accomplishes those goals and more. We rejected the new taxes and other proposals that would hurt families and businesses, and put forth a plan to give taxpayers the relief they need and deserve. We also make sound investments in education to help our students, fund critical infrastructure, and propose new measures to strengthen our communities.”

The budget would also add an additional $27 million in funding for non-MTA transit systems, bringing the total funding to $552 million, a 6 percent increase.

The closely divided Senate is crafting a budget as a special election in April could tip the balance of power in the chamber to Democrats, based a unity deal between the mainline conference and the Independent Democratic Conference forged last year.

At the same time, Republicans have been increasingly emboldened when it comes to criticizing Cuomo, a Democrat who has worked well with GOP lawmakers during his time in office. One Republican, Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, is challenging Cuomo and seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination this year.

“Our pro-growth budget plan delivers on our promises to provide additional tax relief to overburdened families, seniors and businesses while supporting key investments in education, infrastructure, health care and other areas critical to the safety and well-being of New Yorkers,” said Cathy Young, the Senate Finance Committee chairwoman.

“We’ve accomplished this while adhering to our self-imposed two-percent spending cap – a measure that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support and that has saved taxpayers $41 billion over the past seven years. We’ve also eliminated the tax and fee proposals in the Executive proposal that would have hurt job creation and economic development. This is a plan firmly focused on the future.”

Cuomo Says He Wants To ‘Mobilize’ Students On Gun Control

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated Wednesday he wants to harness the student activism in the wake of the high school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people as a vehicle for new gun control legislation.

“We want to mobilize this force in New York,” Cuomo said before attending a student-led walkout in New York City. “I hope these students stay involved and I hope they weigh in and we’re going to encourage that.”

Cuomo said his office would start New York Students Against Gun Violence, an organization that will push for gun control legislation and backed by students involved on the issue.

In Albany, lawmakers have been debating a variety of measures that seek to reduce gun violence or bolster school security, ranging from bans on bump stocks supported by Democrats and some Republicans to GOP-led efforts to expand school resource officers at schools in New York.

Cuomo has pointed to the SAFE Act as one of the strongest gun control measures in the country and has largely emphasized a national push on the issue.

“The nation is yet to respond after Florida,” he said. “How they are yet to respond is beyond me.”

Cuomo Comments On Percoco’s ‘Abberration’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday gave his most expansive comments to date on the corruption case of his former close aide Joe Percoco, calling his behavior “an aberration.”

At the same time, Cuomo said Percoco’s appearances in the governor’s public office while running his re-election campaign in 2014 was to do “transition work.”

Percoco’s appearances in Cuomo’s Manhattan office was one of the main revelations from the trial in which he was found guilty on three counts of federal corruption charges related to a bribery and bid rigging scheme.

“When he left state government he would come back in the office to handle transition matters,” Cuomo said before taking part in a student walkout over gun violence in New York City. “He was there for a very long time. It was a very important position.”

But Cuomo noted that Percoco’s work in the office may have gone beyond the transitory work.

“There was a suggestion that there was and that was a violation of the rules,” he added.

Cuomo reiterated his call for a ban or limits on outside income for public elected officials. Cuomo himself has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the publishing of a 2014 memoir “All Things Possible.”

Lawmakers have been resistant to a ban on outside income. They have not received a pay increase since 1999 and earn a base salary of $79,500 though many earn more in the form of stipends.

“The single best ethics reform which makes everything moot is no outside income in government,” Cuomo said. “The Legislature refuses it because they believe it is a part-time position. It’s not a part-time job. They work full time.”

The trial has also given new firepower to criticism of Cuomo from his Republican rivals, including gubernatorial candidates Marc Molinaro and John DeFrancisco. On Thursday, Cuomo said the criticism is false, separating himself from Percoco’s actions.

“Look at the facts. We’re in the political silly season and everyone can say what they want to say. But there are still facts,” he said. “This was a two year trial. There was no suggestion ever made that I had anything to do with anything. There was an exhaustive trial and there was never any suggestion it had anything to do with me.”

The comments this morning came after Cuomo stayed largely silent on the proceedings of the trial, which began in January. Cuomo at the time whenever asked about the case said he did not want to interfere with the judicial process. He was not called to testify in the case.

But the arrest of Percoco, a confidant once described by the governor as a veritable brother, has taken its toll on Cuomo at least personally.

“On a personal level, this is both sad and shocking. I feel for the Percoco family. He has two young daughters who are going to have to live with this trauma,” he said. “The behavior violates everything that my administration is about. We strive for total integrity and this is a total aberration from the people who work in the administration.”

NY-19: Delgado Ad Highlights Door Knocking

Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado on Wednesday released a TV ad highlighting his door-to-door campaigning ahead of the June primary.

The ad is part of a five-figure ad purchase that will air on broadcast and cable channels in the Hudson Valley House district.

Delgado is among the crowded field of Democrats vying to take on Republican Rep. John Faso in the competitive district that has long been a target for the party to flip.

“This TV ad is a reflection of our campaign,” Delgado said.

“I’ve spent the past year listening to folks in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. I’ve knocked on doors, made phone calls and attended events. And we’ve only just begun. This campaign is about you. Over the course of this campaign we will be highlighting the same issues we talked about in your doorways. This first ad will highlight the need for universal, quality, affordable health care. It’s time we had a representative that shows up and listens. My parents taught me that with hard work and discipline good things can happen. No one will work harder for the people in our region than I will.”

Percoco’s Guilty Verdict, Albany’s Timetable

From the Morning Memo:

About an hour before Joe Percoco learned his fate from a jury in Manhattan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie predicted a relatively smooth passage of the budget, which due to pass two days ahead of schedule given the timing of Passover and Easter this year.

“We fully intend to be respectful of the Easter and Passover holidays,” Heastie said. “We don’t want to go up to March 31. I think the 28th and 29th are the days we’d like to have this wrapped up.”

By midday, Percoco, a former close aide and confidant to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of selling his office, as corruption has come past the doorstep of the executive branch in Albany.

What this means for the rest of the year in which politics and governing is becoming increasingly jumbled together is unclear.

Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in statements both signaled, vaguely, for support of new ethics measures in the wake of the Percoco verdict.

Still, over the next two weeks, the Capitol already has a full plate, including a financial plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that could include a congestion pricing system, a roughly $4 billion budget shortfall that is being closed, in part, with $1 billion in new taxes and a plan that would act as a workaround for a $10,000 federal cap on state and local taxes.

The Assembly’s own plan for the MTA and mass transit would apply various surcharges on ride hails, limousine service and taxicabs in Manhattan. It does not include the broader toll plan that is backed by Cuomo and transit advocates.

Given the advanced timetable, plus the issues at hand, it’s possible some of these provisions fall out of the negotiations and are deal with in the spring. But Heastie was confident they could — and perhaps should — get done in the budget agreement.

“I’d say the revenue raisers and dealing with the MTA should be done in the budget,” Heastie said. “Deadlines are something we always deal with here, so I’m not concerned we have two less days.”

Meanwhile, the year has had an unusually early injection of electoral politics in it. Republicans are lining up behind either state Sen. John DeFrancisco or Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro in the race for governor. Actress and public education advocate Cynthia Nixon increasingly appears to be a Democratic candidate to challenge Cuomo in a primary.

On the national stage, a GOP-aligned super PAC America Rising attacked Cuomo after the verdict.

“Today’s conviction of Governor Cuomo’s former chief of staff highlights the corrupt practices tolerated pervasive throughout the Cuomo administration,” said Alexandra Smith, the PAC’s executive director. “The political ramifications will continue to be a glaring red flag for voters as he ramps up efforts for a run in 2020.”

Cuomo himself won’t be in Albany today. He’s attending a student walkout at Leadership and Public Service High School in New York City, protesting mass shootings and gun violence.

Fighting For Children PAC Endorses Sepulveda

From the Morning Memo:

Fighting for Children, the political action committee that is pushing for the passage of the Child Victims Act, has endorsed Democratic state Senate candidate Luis Sepulveda in the 32nd district race.

The PAC, founded by businessman Gary Greenberg, is pushing candidates to support the bill that would make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

“We are proud to endorse candidates committed to reforming the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse to better protect the children of New York,” said Greenberg, an abuse survivor himself.  

“Luis Sepulveda will be a great addition to New York’s Senate. A tireless commitment to families in His Bronx state Assembly district and beyond prove he will be a strong ally in our efforts to protect all children from evil predators.”

Sepulveda is running for the Bronx district vacated by Councilman Ruben Diaz, Sr. in a special election scheduled for April 24.

“We stand today with victims and their families, for justice,long denied and overdue,” Sepulveda said.

“I commend Fighting for Children PAC for their advocacy on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse and for raising awareness about this critical issue to protect all of our children.”

Flanagan Says He’s Open To ‘Additional Changes’ In Ethics Laws

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement Tuesday said he would be willing to discuss “additional changes” to the state’s ethics and transparency laws after the guilty verdict in the corruption case of Joe Percoco, a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“For as long as I have been in the state Legislature, I have always believed that more transparency and more disclosure are a good thing,” Flanagan said. “If we can make additional changes to our laws that will positively impact our state and its people, we are always willing to have those discussions.”

A number of changes, including a tracking of contracts through a database, as well as more oversight of spending by the state comptroller’s office, were proposed in the wake of Percoco’s 2016 arrest. None of the proposed measures have been approved.

Cuomo himself in a statement earlier in the day said he would be willing to back unspecified “safeguards” and use the trial as a learning experience.

Flanagan, like Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, called the guilty verdict unfortunate, but added it shouldn’t smear all of Albany.

“I have faith and trust in the criminal justice system, and similarly I have faith and trust that this jury took its responsibility to weigh the evidence in this case seriously and render a verdict that they deemed appropriate. As New Yorkers, we accept their verdict,” he said.

“On a personal level, it is unfortunate when anyone in government is found guilty of these kinds of charges. I strongly believe there are a lot of really good people in government – – people who choose public service for all the right reasons, people who are important to the operations of their state and their local communities.”