Albany

End-Of-Life Advocacy Boosted By GOP Former Lawmaker

Former Assemblywoman Janet Duprey watched both her parents die, she said, very painful deaths.

Her father had mesothelioma, her mother suffered a series of strokes, asking to have her feeding tube taken out when at a nursing home.

“I don’t know if they would have chosen medical aid in dying,” Duprey said on Monday in Albany, “but I certainly feel like they had the right to choose and I certainly want to choose my own destiny.”

Duprey was among the advocates to be in Albany on Monday backing legislation that would legalize end-of-life options for the terminally ill. The measure has stalled in the Legislature over the years as entities ranging from the Catholic Church to advocates for the disabled have raised concerns with the bill.

Supporters of aid-in-dying insist the legislation has protections for those who considered the most vulnerable. Duprey, a Republican, said those built-in protections led her in part to support the bill.

“I have a grandson who is on the spectrum. He will never have to make that decision. If I didn’t think this bill protected him, I wouldn’t be supporting it,” she said. “Give people a choice. People should have a choice to be in control of their own bodies.”

The lobby effort was wrapped around an Assembly Health Committee hearing on the issue, which was standing room only.

Advocates for and against the measure lined the walls for the hearing, and opponents remain confident the measure is unlikely to be approved this year.

“I know we hold the votes,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms. “I pretty confident in that position. This is an effort to try to make a story where there isn’t one.”

McGuire pointed to the opposition to the bill which has not fallen on Republican and Democratic lines.

“This is one of those issues that’s really bipartisan,” he said. “They’re opposed to assisted suicide. We’re seeing people coming together, both Republicans and Democrats, they’re voicing their opposition.”

Report Examines CPV Lobbying Ahead Of Percoco Trial

From the Morning Memo:

A report being released Friday by the Public Accountability Initiative examines the money spent on the consulting and lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs by Competitive Power Ventures as the trial of a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo loomed.

The report highlights the money spent by CPV on lobbying and other public relations efforts as the trial of Joe Percoco approached last year.

The group’s survey ties the amount of money spent by CPV to the increased scrutiny of its power plant project in the Hudson Valley that played a key role in the case.

Percoco earlier this year was convicted of federal corruption charges that stemmed from efforts to secure economic development contracts in exchange for bribes and a low-show job for his wife.

“After the November 2016 indictment of Percoco, CPV’s state and federal lobbying efforts more than quadrupled,” the report found. “Whereas CPV spent $100,909 on lobbying in 2016, it spent $430,000 in 2017.”

The report also comes as Cuomo’s rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Cynthia Nixon, has made the project an issue in her campaign.

CPV in a statement blasted the report, calling it “the latest political stunt by those who want to ignore the facts and the law.”

“CPV has met and exceeded every state and federal standard to operate this plant and build the pipeline needed to supply it with natural gas, winning hard-fought battles against the Cuomo administration in court as a result,” said Tom Rumsey, the company’s vice president for external affairs.

“When the CPV Valley Energy Center is operational on our primary fuel, we will be one of the most efficient and environmentally sound power plants in the country. For New York, that equates to a reduction in carbon emissions of an estimated half a million tons per year while bolstering grid reliability and providing critical revenue into local governments.”

The report was also criticized by Mercury itself.

The firm’s co-chairman, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who was the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City in 2005, said in a statement, “This is such a reach, it’s ridiculous.”

The Percoco Connection – Final Report %5bfor SoP April 20 2018%5d by Nick Reisman on Scribd

NY Unemployment Stays Flat In March

New York’s unemployment stayed largely flat in March at 4.2 percent, with the state’s private-sector job count increasing by only 200.

“New York State’s economy continued to expand in March as we reached a new, all-time high private sector job count and remained at our lowest statewide unemployment rate since before the recession,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, Director of the New York State Department of Labor’s Division of Research and Statistics.

The unemployment rate nationally is slightly lower, 4.1 percent.

New York City’s jobless rate also remains unchanged at 4.2 percent.

The Department of Labor in its announcement touting the jobs numbers pointed to the 8.1 million private sector jobs in the state, which it said was an all-time high.

JCOPE: Lobbying Spending Falls By $2.6M In New York

Lobbying in New York remains an expensive business, with entities spending more than $240 million in 2017 to influence state and local governments.

But total lobbying spending declined slightly since 2016, with groups spending $2.6 million less in 2017, according to a report released Wednesday by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

JCOPE in 2016 and 2015 tracked $243 million in lobbying spending on issues before state and local governments.

As usual, the top lobbying organizations included health care, telecommunications and education, while relative newcomer Uber Technologies continued to flex its muscle in New York.

The top lobbying concern in New York last year was the Greater Hospital Association, which reported spending $2.8 million. It was followed by Uber Technologies, which spent $2.4 million and AARP, which spent $1.4 million. The United Teachers Federation spent nearly $1.4 million, the report found.

The top lobbying shop in New York is Kasirer, which reported $11.4 million in compensation, followed by Brown & Weinraub, PLLC at $11.1 million and Bolton St. Johns at $8.5 million.

The Post-Budget Session Begins Amid Uncertainty

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers return to Albany today for a post-budget legislative session in which there is one thing certain: Nothing is really certain at all.

Democrats could potentially gain control of the state Senate for the first time since losing power after a two-year stint in the majority between 2009 and 2010, assuming the two competing Democratic conferences can work together after being at odds for seven years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing a primary challenge from actress and education advocate Cynthia Nixon, has been under increasing pressure to show he’s the true champion of the left, bringing him closer to his allies in organized labor, who have fled the Working Families Party.

In a way, these are insider-ish concerns. But how the next several weeks play out in Albany — the intersection of liberal activism coming into its own with the Nixon challenge, a Democratic state Senate and a governor fending off a primary bid like he’s never faced before — could have revelations on New York for years to come.

There’s still the matter of what can or cannot get done in Albany before the end of the session in June, but much of it is left up in the air due to the questions surrounding Senate control. Should Democrats win two open seats in the chamber on April 24 in special elections, the pressure will be on Sen. Simcha Felder to switch sides, giving the party a working majority.

Still, that’s a narrow working majority of one seat, making it difficult for Democrats to pass some of the more controversial measures on their to-do list, such as strengthening abortion rights.

Nevertheless, some lawmakers are hopeful that criminal justice provisions like cashless bail for non-violent offenders or early voting can pass this session.

Then there’s the question of how the Independent Democratic Conference, which is due to formally dissolve itself this week, will merge with the mainline Democratic conference in the state Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview last week indicated she was planning for a smooth transition between the two conferences.

“Obviously I think it will be a transition period,” she said, “but I’m trying to really minimize upheaval. I think you’re going to see a whole lot of repositioning, there will be some, but not a whole lot. and we’re all there to serve the people of New York and I think New Yorkers are going to be better off with us together.”

After dropping his bid for the WFP’s endorsement and subsequently losing it to Nixon, Cuomo’s campaign lamented the “schism” in the WFP, while also insisting the Democratic Party in New York was unified.

“After nearly a decade of discord, we have a united Democratic Party and the governor is 100 percent focused on maintaining that unity to fight Trump in Washington, take back the House and win the state Senate,” said Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Abbey Fashour. “The schism between the progressive unions who founded the WFP and some of its member organizations is unfortunate, but in that divide the governor stands with the unions who have left the WFP and no longer feel it represents the interests of middle- and working-class New Yorkers.”

Trichter Launches Bid For Comptroller

From the Morning Memo:

Campaign operative Jonathan Trichter in an email and video released Monday night formally unveiled his bid for state comptroller, with plans to run on the Republican and Conservative Party lines.

Trichter is a Democrat who has largely worked for Democratic candidates, including Mark Green, Carolyn McCarthy, Eliot Spitzer and Fernando Ferrer. But he also most recently worked with Harry Wilson, a Republican businessman who unsuccessfully ran for comptroller in 2010 against incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli.

Wilson bowed out of running for governor at the start of the year.

He’s received public encouragement to run by state GOP Chairman Ed Cox as well as Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long.

“I had a front-row seat in the private sector to what happens when a government office meant to provide grownup supervision to Albany politicians was itself run by Albany politicians,” Trichter said. “The prior Comptroller was hauled off to prison. The current Comptroller was handpicked to fill the vacancy by disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver over the objections of every editorial board in the state.”

Trichter would be taking on DiNapoli again, who was first appointed to the post in 2007, replacing the scandal-scarred Alan Hevesi. He was elected to a full term outright in 2010. He defeated Republican Onondaga County Executive Bob Antonacci in 2014.

In his campaign announcement, Trichter indicated he would take a different track than DiNapoli.

“The Comptroller came to office not because he was qualified but because he was everybody’s best friend in Albany,” Trichter said. “It’s no surprise, then, that he has brought to bear the powers of that office to protect the Albany status quo. I don’t have any friends in Albany. I will use the powers of the Comptroller to protect ordinary New Yorkers.”

JCOPE Settles Lobbying Law Violations Related To Pro-de Blasio Group

The state’s main lobbying and ethics regulator on Monday announced lobbyists connected to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York has agreed to pay a $50,000 in fines to settle an investigation into alleged violations of the state’s lobbying laws.

The settlements paid by James Capalino and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets co-founder Steven Nislick and board member Wendy Neu conclude an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics into the work done by the now-defunct Campaign for One New York.

The organization was developed by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio as a way of pushing legislative and policy goals of his administration in Albany.

The investigation by JCOPE, according to the panel, began after lobbyists or clients of lobbyists who were seeking to influence New York City officials, donated to the Campaign for One New York at the request of either de Blasio himself or Ross Offinger, the mayor’s top fundraiser and treasurer of the group.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allies had formed their own version of this previously in 2011 with the creation of the Committee to Save New York, which folded after 2012.

JCOPE had previously re-written its rules to make contributions to non-profits like the Campaign for One New York.

Capalino had donated $10,000 to the campaign and bundled an additional $90,000 in contributions from nine of his lobbying clients. After that, Capalino worked with Offinger in order to arrange meetings with those clients and de Blasio.

In a separate settlement, Nislick and Neu settled allegations of lobbying law violations, admitting that they had sought to influence legislation on replacing horse carriages in Manhattan with electric vehicles that they donated to the Campaign for One New York.

NYCLASS was also forced to admit that it failed to register with JCOPE as a lobbying entity and must file the required documents as part of the settlement.

Felder Won’t Pick Sides Until After April 24

Today’s news of a new-and-improved reunification deal brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo between the IDC and so-called “regular” Senate Democrats gives even more power to a single individual – Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder – who already proved during the recent budget battle that he’s quite comfortable in his lynchpin role, even if that means holding up proceedings to get what he wants.

Even if this latest peace deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC Leader Jeff Klein holds when lawmakers return to Albany after the Easter/Passover break next week, and even if the Democrats win both the April 24 special elections (the Westchester County race is really the deciding factor there, since the Bronx seat seems a safe bet), the Republicans will still have control of the chamber as long as Felder, a conservative Democrat, continues to caucus with them.

During a brief telephone interview this afternoon, Felder told me he “doesn’t see the benefit” of making a decision right now as to which side he’ll be on when the dust settles on April 24.

“If and when it happens, I’d have to think about it,” Felder said when asked who he’ll be sitting with in Albany. “I don’t want to think about it right now. That’s how I handle my life. I compartmentalize decisions that I have to make today rather than something I may have to decide a few weeks from now…If they don’t win those two seats, they don’t have the majority anyway. I’m not moving just to be a loyal Democrat, which I’ve always said I am not.”

The governor’s office has added a 4 p.m. event to his schedule with Stewart-Cousins and Klein at Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office, presumably to formally announce the details of this latest deal.

Felder said he doesn’t feel pressure to make a decision one way or another from Cuomo, who clearly is feeling pressure himself – likely from the primary challenge launched by Cynthia Nixon, who has made control of the Senate a focus of her campaign thus far – enough pressure, that is, to want to accelerate the peace deal between the warring Democratic factions that was struck late last year.

“We’ve talked about issues, but not about this recently,” Felder said, adding that he feels some “anticipatory pressure” about his impending decision, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be rushing into anything any time soon.

As for the deal for loosening state Education Department regulations for yeshivas (Jewish religious schools) that he got by holding up the state budget agreement last week, Felder said he is semi-satisfied.

“I think it’s certainly helpful, but it’s not what I wanted,” the senator said. “I think that it’s very rare that you get what you want…I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will say that the situation isn’t better than it was before. I think anybody who wants to be fair, and I’m being conservative, would say there’s a fifty percent improvement.”

The Senate Republicans should not feel confident, however, that the yeshiva deal was sufficient to keep Felder’s loyalty going forward. In fact, the senator told me he was not at all happy to see Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan predicting during an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom that Felder would be staying put, and also downplaying his obviously outsized role in determining the budget outcome – not to mention the battle over the majority.

“I’ve love to say: Just drop dead and go somewhere else,” the senator said. “But that’s me back in first grade.”

That said, the Democrats should be careful what they wish for, too, when it comes to Felder. It’s not a foregone conclusion that if he returns to the Democratic fold that they would have sufficient votes to pass the sorts of progressive bills that activists who are paying attention to this fight expect them to take up if reunification goes through.

For example, there’s no way Felder, an observant Jew, would ever vote “yes” on the abortion rights bill. And he’s simply not movable on that issue, much like former Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., another conservative Democrat and deeply religious man, (he’s a reverend), could not be counted on as a “yes” on pretty much anything abortion related.

“It’s not about the issues they talk about,” Felder said of the Democrats who are pushing for unity in the Senate. “Those are the issues that might motivate the average person on the street, and they want those people to be excited so they can get what they really want, which is money and power.”

5 Budget Takeaways

From the Morning Memo:

New York has its $168.3 billion budget for the new fiscal year, which began Sunday. The budget funds everything from education, to the tune of more than $26 billion, to boosting efforts to fight heroin and opioid addiction while also setting in motion an effort to bolster mass transit in New York City.

Here are some takeaways from the budget and what it could mean for the rest of the year:

1. Sen. Simcha Felder is the kingmaker.

The Brooklyn Democrat who conferences with Republicans in the state Senate insists he doesn’t have a lot of power in the Legislature, humbling joking to disbelieving reporters, “just ask my wife.” But his push to change curriculum oversight regulations for yeshivas and other religious schools — while seemingly esoteric — largely held up the finalization of a deal on Friday, the drop-dead day to get the budget done before a holiday week.

Ultimately, a compromise was struck, with Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican who is known to have a cordial relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, acting as a key legislative negotiator on the issue. The episode, an apparent 11th hour request from Felder, underscored his importance for Senate Republicans, who need to keep him satisfied enough to not bolt the GOP conference. Democrats could pickup two open seats in an April 24 special election, giving the party a numerical majority again in the chamber. Under the terms of a unity deal, the Independent Democratic Conference would then align with mainline Democrats. The question becomes: Where does Felder go? Even then, would Democrats want Felder to be them what he is to Senate Republicans?

These questions make for a potentially messy and unpredictable April for the state Senate, where nothing can be simple.

2. Albany dominates New York City.

The city of New York is shouldering virtually the entirety of the state’s economic growth. It’s population is surging and its wealthy is helping to replenish the state’s coffers. But when it comes to Albany, New York City is virtually in the backseat of the car. The budget agreement found ways to remind New York City, even as it desires to be a city-state unto itself, that power in New York state flows from the top down.

The city is on the hook to pay half of the $800 million earmarked for upgrading the subway system — a stick in the eye to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the governor’s chief antagonist. Congestion pricing in the form of tolls at key entrances to Manhattan did not survive. Instead, lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to a surcharge on ride hail cars of $2.75 and yellow cabs at $2.50 in Manhattan. The New York City Housing Authority is being shored up by an infusion of state help, for which Cuomo is taking credit. The state is moving aggressively to develop part of Penn Station over security concerns. And a push for more oversight of per-school spending is seen as an effort to highlight school funding issues in New York City, silencing critics of the governor that he is not doing enough to help high-needs schools and students.

Cuomo and de Blasio remain adversaries, a deepening rivalry that is turning toward electoral politics. Cuomo views the challenge from actress and education advocate Cynthia Nixon as a de Blasio-backed push against him that is, at the very least, meant to embarrass him on a national stage. The mayor, meanwhile, continues to chaff (as his predecessors) that Albany controls so much of his agenda. This frustrations fueled by a Republican-controlled Senate he’s largely holds little to no sway in that remains hostile his proposals. Add the feud to the mix and de Blasio’s options remain few.

3. Gun control can pass in the Senate.

The Legislature approved its first gun control measure since 2013, a bill that is meant to close loopholes and take guns away from those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. For Democrats and gun control advocates, the bill is low-hanging fruit. The measure was broken out of the budget and considered as a standalone bill. This allowed Republicans to cast votes against a bill on Second Amendment groups without also voting against, say, education aid, while addressing larger concerns about linking policy to spending.

The measure’s approval, which came with the aid of Democratic votes in the Senate, was a victory for Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Republican who represents suburban Nassau County and a swing district that Democrats have long hoped to flip. It’s also the first gun control measure to be approved in Albany since the SAFE Act in 2013, a package of gun control provisions pushed through the Legislature in the wake of an elementary school shooting in December the prior month. The resulting controversy surrounding the SAFE Act’s passage led to the election of more conservative Republican lawmakers in the senator who have vowed to undo the law. That has largely not happened, but made new gun regulations less likely to happen.

Lawmakers this year pursued a range of new gun control measures, such as a bill that would expand background checks in New York to 10 days, following a shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, part of a nationwide outcry on the issue. Republicans countered with calls to strengthen school safety through funding for armed resource officers, a move opposed by Democrats in the Assembly.

4. Policy melts away.

Lawmakers have not been pleased with policy intertwined in the budget with spending. It forces them to take tough votes on issues that they wouldn’t necessarily support while hamstringing their negotiations. For Cuomo, the budget has become the easiest way to grease the skids for policy proposals that he would otherwise have less leverage in negotiating during the remainder of the non-budget session, which runs through June.

In this budget, Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to changes to the state’s sexual harassment policies, measures that had been criticized by survivors of harassment for not going for enough.

Elsewhere, policy largely fell out of the talks: The Child Victims Act, a bill that would make it easier for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, went nowhere again. A provision that would establish early voting in New York also died in the talks. Ethics and good-government reforms also died away in the negotiations.

5. The process wasn’t pretty.

In the end, the budget was largely once again negotiated in secret, often at the governor’s mansion a mile away from the Capitol building by a handful of people elected and appointed who control billions of dollars. The budget agreement itself was voted on as the ink dried, with bleary-eyed lawmakers voting on the final bill at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend.

Lawmakers and Cuomo once again agreed to the re-creation of a legislative pay commission to consider whether the Legislature should receive a boost in pay from its base $79,500. Cuomo insisted Friday evening he would not further link legislative pay increases to future proposals.

Budget Starts To Coalesce As Major Issues Are Resolved

A deal has been reached over Sen. Simcha Felder’s push over education curriculum standards for Yeshivas has been resolved, clearing the way for an agreement on the broader budget.

Sources on Friday afternoon indicated the agreement had been reached and language was being haggled over between legislative aides.

Still, the move clears the way for a significant development in striking a deal on the $170 billion spending pan that was scheduled to pass by this weekend.

Felder left Friday to observe the Passover holiday in Brooklyn — a sign he had gotten what he sought in the talks. Felder declined to detail what, exactly, the compromise entailed, only that he was leaving Albany.

Meanwhile, more details on spending are trickling out: The state will increase education spending by $1 billion, including a $619 million hike in foundation aid and $240 million more in expense-based aid.

Other issues, including a provision that would apply a fee on ride hail apps like Uber and Lyft in Manhattan in order to fund mass transit has been agreed to as well.

But the Felder push for Yeshivas represented a significant set back for the progress of the talks. First raised on Monday this week in a closed-door leaders meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the proposal virtually blew up the talks as lawmakers had sought to lock down deals this week.

Multiple sources this week said the discussion over the proposal, raised by Sen. Andrew Lanza and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, led to Cuomo angrily raising his voice at the two lawmakers and an end to the meeting.

Lawmakers are set to vote on budget bills throughout the evening, even as others leave the Capitol for religious observances.

“We’re going to keep working as long as there’s work to do. So, yeah, our plan is to continue to work,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle. “We’re talking to members about how to make certain that if they have religious observances that they go to services here. People have been very cooperative, checking in with me.”