Albany

Labor Department Releases Fast-Food Wage Report

fastfoodThe state Department of Labor on Friday released its 25-page report outlining the wage board’s criteria for recommending a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers.

The report lays out the rationale for increasing pay for workers in the fast-food industry as well as the chains that will be impacted by the pay increase.

All told, 137 different chains are impacted by the recommendation, ranging from McDonald’s and Burger King to more specialized outlets like Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s. More >

Good-Government Groups Urge Cuomo To Approve FOIL Bills

capitoldayA coalition of government reform groups on Friday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to approve two measures that are designed to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Laws.

One bill is designed to reduce the time public agencies have to appeal a judicial decision in granting access to public records from nine months to two months.

Another measure is aimed at requiring agencies to pay out legal fees and court costs incurred when a member of the public has prevailed in gaining access to documents and a court has ruled there is no “reasonable basis” for not providing the records.

“Unfortunately, government agencies often deliberately delay the FOIL process, or simply do not provide the requested records. Agencies know that it is very expensive for the public to appeal a FOIL request to the courts, and are often able to effectively ignore FOIL.These two bills will help make government agencies more responsive to FOIL requests by improving the process for appealing the denial of those requests,” the groups wrote in the letter.

More >

State DOH Releases Medical Marijuana Licenses

Tmedmarhe state Department of Health on Friday announced the selection of five companies to manufacturer and dispense medical marijuana in different regions of the state.

The manufacturing facilities will be located in five counties around the state: Queens, Monroe, Fulton, Warren and Orange.

Companies selected for the medical marijuana licenses will have four dispensaries each around the state in different geographical areas, including New York City, the suburban counties and western and central New York.

The Department of Health had largely conducted the approval process behind the scenes, even has medical marijuana firms conducted public relations campaigns to tout their own proposals and potential for job creation, especially in the upstate facilities they planned to build dispensaries. More >

Despite Reformers’ Calls, A Special Ethics Session Seems Unlikely

libous1From the Morning Memo:

Add Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to the list of state officials who do not think it is likely lawmakers will approve new ethics legislation in the wake of two convictions in the Legislature.

“I don’t think it’s tolerated right now,” Flanagan said while in Cooperstown on Wednesday. “You see people who are getting prosecuted, who are getting indicted, who are getting convicted. Frankly, it’s bad for everybody.”

Last week, both Republican Tom Libous and Democrat John Sampson were convicted in separate in corruption cases, forcing their ouster from the Senate.

Republicans are pushing to retain Libous’s seat in the Southern Tier, while Flanagan acknowledged that winning Sampson’s Brooklyn district would be a “very, very, very uphill climb.” More >

Assembly, Senate Spend More For Lawyers

The state Assembly and Senate spent thousands of dollars on legal fees last month, according to contract approvals from the state comptroller’s office.

In the Democratic-led Assembly, a $227,000 contract for Hogan Lovells was approved for defense in pending sexual harassment litigation. An additional $23,000 was approved for Rossein Associates, an outside counsel the chamber hired to develop a sexual harassment policy and conduct investigations.

An additional $3,000 each was spent for outside counsel for an independent sexual harassment investigation by Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP, while Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP was hired for outside counsel for the appeals process in the Assemblyman Micah Kellner case.

Kellner was accused of conducting sexual explicit chats online with legislative aides; he later sought to have his punishment imposed by then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver overturned.

Meanwhile, in the Republican-led state Senate, $381,000 was approved for legal fees for former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to the firm O’Connell & Aronowitz.

NY Bar Association Looks To Constitutional Convention

In advance of a scheduled referendum for a constitutional convention, the New York State Bar Association is forming a committee to study the state constitution.

“Although a referendum is more than two years away, the State Bar Association wants to be prepared to contribute to public understanding about how the state Constitution affects the lives of 19 million New Yorkers,” Bar Association President David Miranda said.

The bar association’s committee is being led by Hank Greenberg of the prominent lobbying shop and law firm, Greenberg Traurig.

New York voters will consider a referendum — triggered automatically every 20 years — as to whether the state should hold a convention to revise, amend our outright replace the state constitution — a document that is longer than the U.S. Constitution.

The referendum is not scheduled to be held until 2017.

A Siena College poll recently showed nearly 70 percent of voters backed the idea of a constitutional convention.

New York’s current constitution has been in place since 1938.

Miranda discussed the committee’s formation in a video released by the bar association:

For Upstate Fast-Food Workers, A Longer Wait For $15

Fast-food workers across New York are getting a raise in their wages, but employees at upstate chain restaurants will experience a more gradual increase than those who live and work in New York City.

“This is a victory for us. It’s a small victory, but we’re not going to stop,” said Amanda Monroe, a fast-food worker in Albany.

The minimum wage for fast-food employees in New York City will increase to $15 an hour by the end of 2018. In the rest of the state, the fight for $15 will take longer: a fully-phased in hike won’t be in effect until 2021.

“The cost of living there is so much higher. If we got $15 now, they deserve $20 now,” Monroe said.

Even with the gradual increase over the next six years, business groups aren’t happy with the push, recommended by a wage board convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“If they understood the pressure small businesses were in, they wouldn’t be raising to $15 at any moment,” said Mike Durant, of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Though the wage increase will only affect fast-food employees, small businesses may feel pressure to raise wages as they compete for workers.

“Upstate New York is predominantly small business territory. When you start talking about dramatically increasing labor costs, in this instance labor costs, even if it’s fast-food, that puts pressure on small businesses across the board,” Durant said.

Meanwhile, minimum wage advocates will push in the next legislative session for broad minimum wage increase for all workers.

“I think as time goes on and as we come back again to the Legislature for a minimum wage statewide for all workers, we’ll certainly be fighting for it to happen sooner and probably to go up higher,” said Citizen Action Executive Director Karen Scharff.

Cuomo this session did not call for a $15 wage. Instead, the governor backed a minimum wage of $11.50 for the city and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. The wage for all workers is due to increase again to $9 by the end of the year.

NYCLU Hints At Legal Action Against Schools

From the Morning Memo:

The state Education Department this week issued guidelines to school districts across New York about how to handle transgender and gender nonconforming students.

This comes just weeks after a NYCLU report detailed “serious pervasive discrimination and harassment” faced by these youngsters, and highlighted districts’ failure to conform with the requirements of the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act.

While NYCLU is applauding the state’s new guidelines, the organization is also not ruling out the possibility of legal action against districts related to some of the anecdotes detailed in its June report.

“All options are on the table in terms of the NYLCU and our commitment in terms of advocating on behalf of our clients,” said Lauren Frederico, an organizer and author of the NYCLU “Dignity for All?” report.

“The reports of discrimination have been coming from students for the past five years,” Frederico said. “I think the number of students who had the courage to reach out to a stranger over the phone and tell them about the most intimate details of their life, tell them about some of the challenges they were facing in school, that continues to inspire me.”

“The students who were brave enough to speak out against these policies and the treatment they were facing really are an inspiration for all of us.”

Outside Activity Regulations Take Effect

From the Morning Memo:

Going forward, state officials will have to seek approval from ethics and lobbying regulators before receiving outside income.

The regulations from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics that take effect today will cover policy makers, statewide elected officials and heads of state agencies who earn income independent of their government job.

From now on, the officials will have to file information with JCOPE on the nature of their outside activities, should the income meet certain thresholds.

State agency heads and statewide elected officials will have to file the approval forms directly with the ethics panel.

The regulations come after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a lucrative contract with publisher HarperCollins for his memoir, “All Things Possible.”

Cuomo has reported earning at least $500,000 from the book deal and could earn up to $150,000, according to disclosure information filed with JCOPE.

Cuomo, who releases his tax returns annually, revealed he made just under $377,000 in 2014 from the book deal and a $188,000 advance in the prior year.

Report: Lawyer-Legislators Earned As Much As $4.2M Combined

An analysis released by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York on Tuesday found state lawmakers who are also practicing attorneys combined earned millions of dollars in outside income on top of their $79,500 base pay.

The analysis, based on the recently filed annual income statements lawmakers and state elected officials are required to file with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, found the outside income could total as much as $4.2 million for lawmakers who are also attorneys.

The average pay was as much as $239,000, the analysis found.

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance has sought in recent years to counter the influence of the trial lawyers’ lobby in New York through regulatory reforms.

The analysis this year comes after both legislative leaders at the start of the legislative session in January were arrested on corruption charges and forced to step down.

Both Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Republican Dean Skelos were employed by influential law firms, but have stepped aside as they fight the corruption charges.

In Silver’s case, the charges stemmed in part from the intersection of his legal work on asbestos cases in which prosecutors allege he masked bribes and kickbacks as legal referrals.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced after he was elected to replace Skelos that he had stepped down from his law firm.

“Any time you have public officials receiving two, three, even ten times more than their state salary from outside legal work, there are going to be questions about conflicting interests,” said the group’s executive director, Tom Stebbins. “Personal injury firms in particular profit from New York’s unbalanced tort laws, which are generally set at the state level. One has to wonder in the personal injury lawyer-legislators are in office to serve the interests of New York, or their personal injury law firms. It was just six months ago that former Speaker Sheldon Silver charged with public corruption after receiving millions of dollars from the plaintiffs’ firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which federal prosecutors claim were nothing more than bribes and kickbacks.”

The Legislature is technically a part-time job, allowing lawmakers to earn money outside of government.

An effort to create a “full-time” Legislature that bans outside pay

Power of Attorney 2015 Outside Income Addendum by Nick Reisman