Albany

Medical Society To Survey Aid In Dying

From the Morning Memo:

The Medical Society of the State of New York will survey its members to gage support for aid-in-dying legislation — a move that’s being praised by Compassion & Choices New York, the group backing the measure in the Legislature.

The survey authorized by the society will assess the views of physicians, medical residents and medical students on the proposal, which allows patients with terminal illnesses to put in motion an end to their life under prescribed conditions.

“On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who support making medical aid in dying in New York legal, I want to thank the House of Delegates of the Medical Society of the State of New York and its leadership for the wise and inspired decision to survey physicians on medical aid in dying,” said the group’s director, Corinne Carey.

“MSSNY has taken a giant step forward with this vote and I am convinced that the results of this survey will mirror similar surveys of physicians nationally and in other states – including Maryland and Colorado – and demonstrate strong support among New York’s doctors.”

The legislation faces opposition from religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, and so far as stalled in the Legislature for the last several sessions.

So far, a half dozen states have backed legislation that authorize aid in dying for patients with terminal illnesses.

Albany Mayor Signs EO Affirming Sanctuary City Status

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan on Monday backed an executive order affirming the city’s police department will not question individuals on their immigration or citizenship status unless necessary to an investigation.

The order, according to the city, is aimed at crime victims, witnesses or those who are seeking assistance from law enforcement.

“I am committed to ensuring that equity and social justice guide all City of Albany decisions, and this Executive Order is another example of that commitment,” Sheehan said in a statement.

“It is a fact that our City is safer because of the trust, relationships, and partnerships cultivated in our neighborhoods as a result of community policing and 21st century policing strategies. The Albany Police Department works diligently to protect all individuals, and our residents and visitors should not be afraid to contact the police if they are the victim or witness of a crime because they are concerned the police will inquire about their immigration status.”

The order comes as the Trump administration has signaled cities that have declared themselves as so-called “sanctuary” communities could face a loss of federal funds should they not coordinate or bolster immigration enforcement.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said punishing sanctuary communities is unconstitutional.

“The Albany community is proud of Mayor Sheehan for standing up for the rights of our immigrant community and proving once more that we are an inclusive, vibrant city,” said Melanie Trimble, Capital Region Chapter Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Police officers have no business doing the work of federal immigration agents and they should not aid the Trump regime’s deportation force.”

Ad Urges Senate GOP To Reject Nuke Subsidy

From the Morning Memo:

A group opposed to a subsidy aimed at supporting the state’s nuclear power plants is releasing an ad on Monday aimed at urging Senate Republicans to oppose the provision.

The ad, being released by Citizens Against Corporate Bailouts, will air on cable TV in New York City, Long Island and in Albany.

The subsidy is contained in a broader clean energy standard aimed at reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels over the next decade.

The subsidy was successfully pushed for in order to bolster the James FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego, which Entergy Corp. had planned to close. The state negotiated a sale of the facility to Exelon Corp. in order to preserve the hundreds of jobs at the plant.

But the nuclear subsidy — paid for by utility ratepayers — has proven especially controversial for some environmental groups, which are split over the energy.

Citizens Against Corporate Bailouts is a conservative free market organization which the Cuomo administration has criticized as a “Beltway Astroturf” group.

“Governor Cuomo’s $8 Billion energy tax hike to prop up failing upstate nuclear plants is the largest middle class tax increase in decades,” said Gregg Keller, the group’s treasurer.

“New York Senate Republicans have done nothing to stop this disastrous tax and it’s past time for them to stand up and fight it. CACB’s significant television ad buy targeting New York City, Long Island, and Albany will ensure that citizens demand action from Senators Joseph Griffo, John Flanagan, Elaine Phillips, and Carl Marcellino on this crucial issue.”

Lawmakers during the budget talks had sought to delay the implementation of the subsidy through additional public hearings. Ultimately, that effort stalled and the budget not impact it.

State Aid Provides Boost When Coal Plants Close

From the Morning Memo:

A report released Thursday by Moody’s Investor Service found the state’s additional $15 million to local governments that have had power plants close is a “credit positive” to the communities.

The state budget the money for Dunkirk and Tonawanda to bolster revenue as part of the Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation — a fund that helps overset losses in tax revenue when coal plants close.

The plants were the largest taxpayer for both communities, so the money also helps the local school districts and has a smaller impact on surrounding counties, the report found.

A community qualifies for the mitigation funding if they lose at least 20 percent in tax revenue due to the closure of an electric generation impact.

“Besides softening the impact of lost tax revenue, the funding infusion will also provide local governments with fiscal flexibility such as an opportunity to lessen the tax burden on residents, bolster reserves and/or address capital needs,” the report found.

Report Finds Thousands Of Petroleum Spill Sites Left Unchecked (Updated)

A report released on Thursday by the new York Public Interest Research Group and the research firm Toxics Targeting found thousands of petroleum spills from oil storage facilities, pipelines and gasoline stations have not been adequately cleaned up.

The report delved into sites linked to ExxonMoible, either through facilities the energy giant owns or has acquired through legacy ownership.

But NYPIRG’s Blair Horner insisted the company itself wasn’t being singled out and the real concern was having state lawmakers look into the remediation efforts at the state.

“This certainly underscores the need for public hearings to look into this. We’ve only identified in a sense the tip of the iceberg,” Horner said. “Hopefully it’s a big tip, but we don’t know for sure. Lawmakers should take a look at this program and see what’s going on.”

“The story is bigger than ExxonMoible,” he added.

The study was conducted by Toxics Targeting, a for-profit environmental research firm.

“We’re not making any assertions. We’re not consultants. We’re simply making this information available,” said Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting.

Hang pointed to one alleged leak along the Olean-Bayonne Crude Oil Pipeline that stretches for 315 miles.

“When we began to compile the data for these oil and gasoline spills, I don’t think we saw any one that was on that level,” he said.

Updated: The Department of Environmental Conservation responded in a statement blasting the report and insisting spills are responded to when they are reported.

“DEC rapidly responds to and cleans up thousands of contaminated sites every year in every corner of the state to ensure that the environment and public health are protected at all times while aggressively pursuing and holding those accountable for the contamination,” said spokesman Sean Mahar. “Our dedicated field staff and first responders will continue their daily response to spills to keep New Yorkers safe and to suggest otherwise or discredit our staff’s commitment, is an irresponsible act by a few headline grabbers to shamefully feed New Yorkers with misinformation.”

Reformers See Procurement Changes Fall Flat

From the Morning Memo:

In September of last year, a dozen prominent upstate developers, the president of SUNY Polytechnic, and a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo were charged in an alleged plot to rig state contracts. Six months later, efforts to reform how contracts are doled out in Albany have fallen flat.

“It really is sort of incredible to me that after the investigations into the U.S. attorney’s office into procurement practices that there hasn’t been at least an interest, any kind of interest, in improving the oversight of the contracting process,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Some lawmakers and government reform advocates had wanted to give Comptroller Tom DiNapoli more oversight of contracts for economic development programs in the budget. That didn’t happen. Instead, the budget provided another $500 million for economic development in western New York for an umbrella program that has come under federal scrutiny.

“I don’t think every system that’s put in place is going to catch every instance of wrong doing but you really need to look at this on a systemic approach and try to build in safeguards that will try to prevent not only wrongdoing, but the integrity of contracts going forward,” said Alex Camarda, a senior policy consultant for Reinvent Albany.

The state has spent billions of dollars in economic development aid and critics have charged the money has been distributed to the politically connected.

“Taxpayers should care because it’s taxpayers money,” said David Friedfel, the director of state studies for the Citizens Budget Commission. “That money is going to projects that are supposed to have benefits for the state and if the procurement process isn’t flowing properly it’s not benefitting the state. it’s also a lot of money.”

Meanwhile, the budget approved this month removed a reporting requirement for another economic development effort, START-UP New York which had required businesses receiving tax credits file reports with the Legislature.

Cuomo on Wednesday on Long Island defended the reporting requirements.

“I believe the reporting on the state’s economic development activities is more robust than less robust,” he said.

Cuomo insisted the job programs are working, pointing to employment gains made as governor. Upstate New York, however, has failed to grow jobs as fast as the rest of the country during the past decade.

Not All Water Issues Addressed In Budget Deal

From the Morning Memo:

Amid ongoing concerns over water quality and water infrastructure, state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to spend $2.5 billion aimed at improving drinking water needs in New York.

“It gets back to the basics, which is fix our pipes,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from the Albany area. “We don’t need to drive down any street during the springtime or the winter to see water mains are bursting all over the place.”

But the spending for some is also being seen as a downpayment — fixing a fraction of what is needed to upgrade the state’s water quality.

“It’s much more comprehensive,” McDonald said. “But, admittedly, it’s a $2.5 billion investment on what’s a $80 billion demand.”

The spending approved in the budget will go toward cesspool and septic replacement, controlling of non-source point pollution for things like road salt, and hundreds of millions of dollars for intermunicipal projects. But it may not be enough.

“It’s impractical to think that this money is going to be used to replace all the underground infrastructure because, honestly, not all of it needs to be addressed. But it is seed money,” McDonald said.

For environmental groups who are cheering the focus on water quality, the concern is what the spending doesn’t include: Testing for contamination in private wells.

“Private wells are a huge regulatory hole,” said Liz Moran, the water and resource associate at Environmental Advocates of New York. “There are hundreds, thousands of people, in the state that have private wells and for all they know they could have emerging contaminants in their water.”

Testing of wells could have helped residents in Hoosick Falls, where a PFOA contamination seeped into the municipal water supply and into some residential well water.

“In Hoosick Falls it wasn’t just the village supply of the water that was contaminated,” Moran said. “It was numerous private wells in the community. This was an area the governor promised at the water quality hearings he would get at.”

Next up, environmental groups will be watching for who is appointed to a council charged with improving water quality in New York.

DFS Fines Excellus $1M Over Contraceptive Coverage

Regulators are the Department of Financial Services have fined Excellus Health Plans $1 million after an investigation found the company had wrongly denied contraceptive coverage to women.

The denial of coverage was blamed on internal system and process errors at the insurer, which failed to promptly pay or deny claims and did not acknowledge consume complaints within the time required state law.

“DFS is taking this action to ensure that women receive the reproductive healthcare benefits they are entitled to under New York law,” said Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo. “Health insurers cannot deny New Yorkers of their State-mandated contraceptive coverage for any reason. In addition, consumers are entitled to prompt payment of claims and responses from their health insurers, as required by New York Insurance Law.”

State law requires health plans in New York provide coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices, while all non-grandfathered plans must cover at least one form of contraception.

The investigation by DFS found Excellus failed to make prompt payment for health claims or pay interest on some claims. At the same time, the company failed to deny some claims on a timely basis.

All told, Excellus failed to acknowledge complaints of 482 policyholders within 15 business days and 339 grievances within the 30-day required time frame.

What’s Left To Do In The Post-Budget Session

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo more or less got what he wanted in the $163 billion budget agreement approved on Sunday by lawmakers.

Cuomo can check off free tuition at SUNY and CUNY, raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York and receiving more power over making changes to the budget should the federal government move to cut state funding.

The millionaires tax rate is extended for another two years, while Senate Republicans can claim a victory with workers compensation reforms included in the budget.

But lawmakers are scheduled to be Albany until the end of June and Cuomo does not necessarily like the narrative of a session petering out with few accomplishments, even as he urges reporters to assess the year in its totality that includes the budget.

So, what’s left on the docket?

Mayoral control of New York City schools: This is a gimme, and there’s little doubt in Albany it will be extended for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has few if any friends on either the second floor or in the Senate Republican conference. The mayor at the moment is facing a relatively clear path to re-election, but will likely to have to come to the Capitol, once again, to lobby for an extension of mayoral control. He was given a year last time around and could be given another 12 months. It expires in June, but don’t expect any action until the deadline approaches.

Ending child marriage: It’s an issue that Cuomo backed earlier this year, and it’s one that has already been approved in the Republican-led Senate last month. The governor pledged in February to end the practice of letting girls as young as 14 to marry in the state. It’s the kind of post-budget issue that could linger for a head-scratchingly long time into the spring, however.

Ethics and voting reform: Don’t hold your breath. Lawmakers have approved a package of new ethics legislation virtually every year Cuomo has been governor, enhancing transparency for legislators’ outside income and creating new anti-corruption measures. The agreed-upon budget, to no one’s surprise, did not include deals for the proposed constitutional amendments for term limits for state elected officials or limits on outside income. At the same time, efforts to make it easier to register and vote in New York have fallen flat in the Republican-led Senate.

What’s In The News: There are issues out there we may not even be aware of yet, either because Cuomo will want lawmakers to react to some future news event or the governor latches on to a proposal that is lying dormant. Federal action on immigration? A major storm? A transportation problem? Cuomo has been adept at finding issues — often worker related or consumer driven — he believes the state should step in and fix.

Remembering Abdus-Salaam

From the Morning Memo:

More tributes and reactions rolled in on Wednesday night following the discovery of the body of the late Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam in the Hudson River.

Abdus-Salaam, a member of the state Court of Appeals since 2013, was 65.

She was the first Muslim woman and the first black woman to serve on the state’s top court.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Her elevation to New York’s highest court as the first African-American woman and Muslim was an inspiration to so many. New York was a better place because of her life of service. We offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said her death was a loss both the state and its judiciary.

“Justice Abdus-Salaam was not simply a trailblazer as the first Muslim female judge in the United States and the first African-American woman on the New York Court of Appeals,” he said. “During her time on the bench, Justice Abdus-Salaam earned the respect of all who appeared before her as a thoughtful, thorough, and fair jurist.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement said he was “shocked” by her tragic and unexpected death.

“On behalf of the entire New York State Senate, we offer Ms. Abdus-Salaam’s family our condolences and our prayers during this extraordinary difficult time,” Flanagan said. “While they have lost a cherished member of their family, New York has lost a committed judge, public servant, and leader far too soon.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie added, “Her passing leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. This is a sad day for all New Yorkers.”

“Abdus-Salaam was a sharp legal mind known to always balance the scales of justice in her decision-making,” said Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein. “I was proud to be part of her nomination as Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, where she served with distinction and made history as the first African American and Muslim woman to ascend to the state’s highest court.”