Infrastructure Group Launches Clean Water Campaign

A coalition that backs infrastructure projects in New York is launching a digital ad campaign on Thursday aimed at pushing for more focus and spending on clean water in New York.

The group, Rebuild New York Now, is launching the effort in Rochester later today with local elected officials, linking the effort to the discovery of a chemical contamination in the drinking water in Hoosick Falls, a rural village near the Vermont border.

“We can all agree that New York needs major investment in its aging and precarious water infrastructure system after high profile disasters like Hoosick Falls have occurred right here at home,” said Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of Rebuild New York Now.

“Investing in our water infrastructure will create jobs while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of New York families. Our coalition of labor, environmental and industry groups will take our message across the state and call upon our leaders to invest in our water infrastructure now, because we cannot wait any longer – our lives depend on it.”

The group is releasing a 60-second digital ad, with plans for social, streaming and video ads running statewide highlighting the water infrastructure issue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget plan includes a proposed $2 billion clean water fund.

DFS: 11 Insurers Providing Inaccurate Info On Contraceptives

A report released Tuesday by the Department of Financial Services found 11 health insurance plans provided inaccurate responses to questions regarding their coverage of contraceptives.

The report surveyed 15 unnamed insurers in New York into the information provided for contraceptive coverage as required under state law.

The report found six plans turned over “a significant number” of inaccurate responses, while one insurer did not provide any information. Meanwhile, the other plans either provided incorrect information and refused to provide other data that was sought or did not know the answer to what was being asked.

“New York law mandates that contraceptive coverage must be available with no copayments, deductibles or any out-of-pocket costs, and also requires that insureds are provided accurate information about their rights to this coverage,” said Superintendent Maria Vullo, whose department regulates insurance in New York.

“Any insurer that is not providing full and accurate information about coverage requirements will be met with swift action to ensure full compliance with this important coverage protection. DFS’s undercover sting identified insurers that provided inaccurate information about contraceptive coverage, and DFS will ensure that all New Yorkers have full access to reproductive health care as mandated by New York law.”

State law requires health plans in New York to provide coverage for contraceptive drugs. Plans that are not grandfathered into the law must coverage at least one form of FDA-approved contraception.

DFS is calling on the insurers to develop corrective plans in order to provide accurate information and is also requesting information and documentation from the companies for their coverage and reimbursement policies.

Contraceptive Coverage Rpt 022017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Cuomo Pledges To Boost Raise The Age, SUNY Tuition Plan

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday in Albany during a reception at the executive mansion pledged to push for a long-stalled effort to increase the age of criminal responsibility in New York as well as his own proposal to provide free tuition at public colleges and universities.

Cuomo tied both efforts to his desire to see New York be “always the first” — especially as liberals and Democrats remain fearful the gains made under President Barack Obama’s administration will soon be swept away by the new Republican leadership in the federal government.

“When it came to progressive leadership, New York is always first,” he said.

Cuomo hosted the event at the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators caucus weekend, an annual Albany gathering of lawmakers that draws honorees and activists.

The event was held to honor the newest member of the Court of Appeals, Rowan Wilson, whose confirmation this month marks the first time two black judges are serving simultaneously on the state’s highest court.

But Cuomo also sought to reiterate his own 2017 agenda at the event and his own push to have New York be a “progressive leader” in the country.

At the mansion gathering included Cuomo cabinet officials, members of the Court of Appeals, former Gov. David Paterson and nine members of the Democratic-led Assembly, including Speaker Carl Heastie.

Cuomo over the last several months has had a rocky relationship with both chambers of the Legislature following the lack of an agreement for a special session that could have led to a legislative pay increase, the first in nearly 20 years.

Still, Heastie was introduced to the audience by Alphonso David, Cuomo’s top legal aide, as a “true friend of the administration.”

In turn, Heastie praised Cuomo’s push to get liberal policies enacted, even jokingly suggesting Cuomo approved the state’s increase in the minimum wage in order to beat California by taking advantage of the 3-hour time difference.

“A year ago this time, a many people weren’t sure whether we’d get the increase in the minimum wage or paid family leave, but here we are,” he said.

Cuomo himself alluded several times to Donald Trump’s administration, though did not criticize the president by name.

Nevertheless, he suggested the Trump administration remains a foil for him in getting his agenda through the Legislature.

“With that new conservative administration in Washington,” he said, “we’re going to go the other way and we’re going to go even harder.”

Ride Hailing Debate Could Heat Up After Break

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers in the Assembly will take up their version of a bill to allow ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City in the coming weeks.

“There’s a lot of different ideas, a lot of different things to cover, but I don’t think it would be too long before we come out with a bill on ride-sharing,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie earlier this month.

While the Legislature is on a break until Feb. 28, the ride-hailing companies hoping to get access to the upstate market are re-emphasizing their push.

Uber even released a new ad on Friday, touting it would “help boost the Upstate economy, attract start-ups, reduce drunk driving and just make it easier for all of us to get from here to there.”

Lyft, meanwhile, is also emphasizing the economic boon ride-hailing could bring.

“For places like western New York, you’re looking at a $40 million impact to their cities,” said Funsho Owolabi, a public policy manager for Lyft.

Both companies insist ride hailing expansion will mean jobs, even as they seek to lower the 5.5 percent tax proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his budget plan.

“We feel the combination of the flexibility of ride-sharing to our driver partners, plus the economic impact to local businesses, restaurants, small business owners, we feel there will be net positive to the communities of New York,” Owolabi said.

Traiditonal cab and taxi companies see it differently, saying the Uber and Lyft should comply with background checks and other security safeguards.

“We’re not opposed to ride-sharing. In fact, they can operate here today if they wanted to get along, go along with rules that are in existence today, but they have their own set of rules that they want the Legislature to approve,” said John Tomassi of the Upstate Transportation Association.

He is skeptical ride-hailing will have a total economic boost, especially for cab drivers whose livelihoods could be threatened.

“Just having somebody come in and pick the cream off, it doesn’t give the full-time driver enough to support himself,” Tomassi said.

The Senate approved its own version of ride-hailing earlier this month, and supporters believe the expansion can be included in the final budget deal.

Uber, Lyft Sharpen Ride Hailing Arguments

The companies making a push for expanding ride hailing services outside of New York City as the budget negotiations are expected to enter a new phase once lawmakers return Feb. 28.

Uber on Friday released an ad to air on broadcast and cable TV touting the effort and its potential impact on the economy.

“Ridesharing apps like Uber would help boost the Upstate economy, attract startups, reduce drunk driving and just make it easier for all of us to get from here to there,” the ad’s narrator says.

Meanwhile, Lyft released an economic impact study of their service’s potential for upstate New York cities.

Consulting firm Land Econ Group reviewed the economic benefit for Rochester and Buffalo, presenting a sunny outlook. In Buffalo alone, the ride hailing expansion would generate $20.1 million, the report found.

In Rochester, $19.3 million would be generated.

“The findings are substantial and demonstrate a missed opportunity for cities to earn more, waste less, and increase efficiency,” the study fonud. “We can’t wait to bring Lyft — and these benefits — to all cities in the near future.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, expects his chamber will take up its one-house version of ride hailing once lawmakers return from the mid-winter break.

Cuomo Admin: City Of Albany Will Benefit From Budget Deal

Though the city of Albany’s shortfall is not addressed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments, the administration moved Friday to allay concerns aired by the capital city’s mayor, Democrat Kathy Sheehan.

“We’ve been in constant contact with Mayor Sheehan’s office, as recently as this morning,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, “and we anticipate reaching a final budget agreement that will benefit the residents of the city of Albany and New York State as a whole.”

As TWC News’s Geoff Redick reported this morning, the governor’s 30-day budget amendments did not include a $12.5 million in additional aid to help cover a structural gap in the city’s finances.

“We cannot raise this funding on the backs of the taxpayers,” Sheehan said at a news conference. “We have been doing more, with less, than any other large city in the state.”

Tourism Signs Cost $8.1M

Updated: Based on testimony from the Thruway Authority acting executive director, the total cost of their 140 signs along the system was $2.7 million, bringing the total cost to $8.1 million.

The purchase and installation of signs along state highways advertising tourism in New York cost $5.4 million — nearly five times the amount initially estimated, according to state Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll.

The signs have become the subject of an ongoing dispute between officials in New York state government and federal officials in Washington.

The federal government contends the signage, advertising the I Love NY brand, apps and other amenities, is actually illegal, given they do not direct motorists to specific location or provide guidance on travel conditions.

All told, the cost to manufacture the 374 signs was $3.1 million. Installing them cost $2.3 million, Driscoll said. There are 514 signs along state highways and the Thruway system.

Initial cost estimates pegged the signs at $1.7 million, according to Gannett in Albany, which first broke the news about the ongoing dispute over the signage.

Taxi Group: Jobs Would Be Lost With Ride Hailing Expansion

The Upstate Transportation Association, a coalition of traditional taxi and livery companies fighting the expansion of ride hailing services in New York, is calling attention in testimony to be given later today to the potential jobs that would be lost should the measure be enacted.

The group is seizing on a report that estimated up to 11,150 full-time non-driver jobs would be lost.

“The jobs that ride-share companies claim to create are part-time, gig work, with no benefits or protections for the drivers,” according to the testimony to be given by John Tomassi, the group’s spokesman.

Lawmakers are hearing testimony from ride hailing firms Uber and Lyft as well that have been pushing for the expansion of their apps’ services outside of New York City, a measure that is included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal.

Uber Predicts Heavy Use For NY Ride Hailing

From the Morning Memo:

Ride hailing app is bullish on its popularity in New York should a measure be approved allowing its service outside of New York City.

In testimony to be delivered today to a joint legislative budget committee meeting on transportation issues, the company lays out its economic impact estimate for ride hailing statewide outside of New York City.

“Within a year of launching, we predict that almost 9 million trips will take place through the Uber app. By 2020, we estimate that rideshare drivers could complete as many as 80 million trips,” the company’s testimony states.

“Ridesharing will provide numerous economic opportunities, strengthen public transportation infrastructure, make our communities’ streets safer, and provide a new, growing source of revenue for both the State of New York and for New Yorkers.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a ride hailing regulatory plan in his $152 billion spending plan. The Republican-controlled Senate also backed a stand-alone bill for ride hails that included a lower tax on the service per ride. The Democratic-led Assembly is also considering a standalone ride hailing bill once lawmakers return from a week-long break later this month.

Clergy Back Aid In Dying Measures

Supporters of a measure that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives were bolstered with the backing of members of the clergy who back the legislation.

The support from a coalition of religious leaders was aimed at countering the opposition to the bill from the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, among others.

The list of clergy backing the aid-in-dying bill included a range of Jewish, Unitarian, Episcopalian and Baptist leaders.

“Preachers across New York spend a great deal of time helping comfort individuals and families during illness and death. We are the ones called to the bedside to witness the suffering of dying people and their families,” said the Rev. Johnnie Green, the senior pastor at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church of Harlem.

“Talking about death and dying, particularly in African American communities, is too often taboo, and we need to change that. Opening up honest conversations about how people want to be cared for at the end of their lives is something we have to do, and that’s why I support legislation that would allow people the freedom to make their own decisions about death and dying, guided by their own faith.”

The legislation, if approved, would apply to those terminally patients who are deemed mentally competent, providing them with a prescription to end their lives.

The bill’s most prominent backer in the Senate has been Staten Island Democrat Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference.

“Today’s faith gathering is the next step in our fight to bring Aid in Dying to New Yorkers,” Savino said. “Aid in Dying is not something everyone would choose, but it’s a choice everyone should have, no matter how or where you worship. I’m a Catholic, and my faith is important to me, but allowing patients, their families and doctors to discuss a safe and compassionate way to end their suffering is important to me and millions of New Yorkers.”