Albany

5 Things To Know With The Session Over

From the Morning Memo:

The legislative session drew to its scheduled close on Wednesday, with state lawmakers leaving a range of issues — renewing speed cameras for New York City, delinking teacher evaluations from state examinations and regulating sports betting — on the table.

It’s not clear if the legislator will return after Tuesday’s congressional primaries to take up speed camera extension legislation; the program expires at the end of next month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, met privately with legislative leaders throughout the final day, but largely restricted his public appearances to TV interviews on national cable networks and NY1 to discuss President Donald Trump ending his administration’s family separation policy for migrants at the U.S. border.

Here are five things to know as the session ends:

1. The Legislature could, possibly, return: It’s a very narrow window that lawmakers would seek to come back in to take up a renewal of speed cameras for New York City. They would likely not do it before the upcoming congressional primaries on Tuesday, which will include several of their members running in key House races. At the same time, the July 4 holiday week will almost certainly have some lawmakers on already scheduled vacations. That leaves a few days at the end of next week to take up a potential renewal bill, if the votes can be mustered. That’s been shown to be easier said than done in the Senate.

2. And speaking of the state Senate: It was a slog to get anything through the Senate in the final weeks of the legislative session, the gears of progress gummed up partially by partisanship, but also simple math. It takes 32 votes to pass anything in the Senate; each conference had only 31 members. Lawmakers were able to notch victories on bills such as creating a prosecutorial conduct commission, regulations aimed at protecting ticket purchasers, among others. But the heavier lifts, including an attempt to jam the Assembly with an omnibus package of local tax extenders, failed to gain passage. The Senate Republicans were left with 31 members after the absence of Sen. Tom Croci, who is leaving at the end of the year and is on active military duty. The impasse also can be partially traced back to April, when the Independent Democratic Conferenced under pressure from liberals and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, disbanded and rejoined the mainline fold, depriving the Republicans of a key bloc of votes.

3. The political season started early this year: Election years in Albany are strange animals on their own. But the political season began unusually early this year, with Cuomo facing a primary challenge from a high-profile opponent, actress and advocate Cynthia Nixon. Cuomo has responded to the challenge with an emphasis on issues friendly to the liberal base of the party, a reflection of really his last four years in office. After the budget was approved, Cuomo forced the IDC and Democrats in the Senate to merge, he ratcheted up his rhetoric against Trump’s policies and pursued legislation like a “red flag” gun control bill that appeared to stand little actual chance of passing in the Senate. In the Senate, Democrats are bidding their time to November, hopeful a wave year will sweep down-ballot candidates into office for the party.

4. NYSUT has a campaign issue: Barring a return to Albany for lawmakers, it’s unlikely teacher evaluations will be separated from state examination results. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan sought to link the issue overall to expanding charter schools, a “cyanide” pill for Assembly Democrats. That leaves the issue for the campaign season, and NYSUT has proven adept at turning matters into political concerns for their active members. NYSUT had largely blamed Republicans for the bill not moving forward, meaning Cuomo himself will be spared much public blame for the situation. That’s key for him as he continues to lead Nixon in the polls.

5. Albany could look very different next year: Regardless of what happens in November, the churn in state government is unusual. Five Republicans in the state Senate are retiring. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle could win a congressional seat, leading to the departure of one of the Capitol’s most visible figures. For a place where not a lot changes year to year, the cast is about to undergo real upheaval.

The Session Lurches To Its Conclusion

From the Morning Memo:

The legislative session in Albany is drawing to a scheduled close today, a conclusion that won’t include the passage of high profile measures.

That’s due, in large part, to the lack of high profile legislation under consideration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of course, pushed for the passage of a “red flag” gun control bill meant to restrict firearm possession for those considered a danger to themselves and others, but it remained unlikely the Senate would ever pass it.

A bill delinking teacher evaluations from state examinations will now almost certainly become a campaign issue for the New York State United Teachers union, which has undertaken a range of creative lobbying efforts to see a “clean” version of the bill approved, efforts that have included a brass band and bagpipers and, today, free ice cream being given away under the window of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office.

Regulations for sports betting will not be taken up by lawmakers, as its bill sponsors in both houses insisted they were close to getting the necessary votes, but the other guy was falling short.

Cuomo himself all but threw in the towel on Tuesday on the remainder of the session, saying the big ticket items he could conceivably get done were accomplished in the budget.

“The issues that are left on the table, which have been left on the table since April when we couldn’t resolved them, are fundamental philosophical differences,” Cuomo said.

Since then, the political winds have shifted, Cuomo indicated.

On his own political front, Cuomo is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, while Republican Marc Molinaro and now Stephanie Miner have also entered the fray to criticize the governor’s record from differing angles.

In the Senate, the two conferences remained deadlocked at 31 members each due to the absence of outgoing Sen. Tom Croci who is on military leave. Lacking the 32 members necessary to stage a straight party-line vote, the Senate has been mired in slow-moving gridlock, a molasses-like state that has led the Assembly to not take seriously proposals such as expanding charter schools in exchange for the teacher evaluation reforms favored by NYSUT.

It has been an odd mix over the last month of legislative, congressional and gubernatorial politics sprinkled in with the usual policy matters debated at the end of the session — an ending that lacks a “big ugly” package and a look toward the coming elections.

Recommendations Made To Address Sexual Harassment In State Government

From the Morning Memo:

A working group comprised of women who have experienced or witnesses sexual harassment or abuse in state government on Tuesday released a package of proposals designed to address the problem.

The proposals released by the Sexual Harassment Working Group include a bolstering of workplace protections for survivors that would change the anti-discrimination clause in the state constitution to include sex and gender as protected classes.

At the same time, the definition of terms like employer and employee in the Human Rights Law would be included, explicitly including legislative staff in the law as a result.

The group also wants to see the adoption of a more reasonable burden of proof for victims and survivors of harassment or discrimination by updating language.

Another recommendation would crewe an indecent Division of Human Rights and increase protections for victims seeking a redress of damages by adding personal liability for discrimination and protections against coercion as well as a “sunshine-in-litigation” law.

Term limits to file complaints should also be increased, the group found.

The proposals come amid a societal reckoning and reorientation surrounding sexual assault and abuse which has also impacted Albany.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in May after accusations from multiple women of physical abuse and mistreatment.

Sen. Jeff Klein, the deputy minority leader in the state Senate, has been accused of forcibly kissing a former staffer in a 2015 incident. Klein has denied any wrongdoing and called for an investigation into the allegation made by Erica Vladimer, who was included in the working group’s recommendations.

Women who have made allegations against lawmakers like the late Assemblyman Vito Lopez were also included in the working group, as is Elizabeth Carruthers, who accused Michael Boxley, a former staffer to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, of rape.

“Isn’t protecting workers from assault and harassment worth discussing more than once a quarter-century? The old laws have not sufficiently protected New Yorkers for decades and recent attempts to fix that have been haphazard at best,” said the Sexual Harassment Working Group in a statement.

“A new process that takes into account the knowledge and experience of employment lawyers, advocates, and survivors themselves is crucial for creating laws that actually protect people, instead of mazes of bureaucracy where people can be dissuaded, scared off, or forgotten. New York must remedy out-of-date, rushed, and insufficient protections for survivors of workplace harassment and abuse now.”

Legislature Approves Prosecutor Oversight Panel, Heads To Cuomo’s Desk

A bill that would create a commission overseeing the conduct of local prosecutors won final passage in the Legislature on Tuesday over the objections of the state district attorneys’ association.

The bill would create a panel similar to the Judicial Conduct Commission, reviewing the actions of local district attorneys. The measure received a surprising swell of bipartisan backing in both chambers — an unusual development for a Legislature often split on criminal justice issues.

The commission would not have the superseding power of removing prosecutors from office; a power that is constitutionally vested in the governor’s office.

The bill is backed by Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse who is set to retire at the end of the year.

In an interview, he said local prosecutors should not feel threatened by the bill, but see the commission as an effort to “weed out” bad actors.

“I don’t know how many cases people have to see where an individual spends years in jail and they later find out by DNA evidence that person was wrongfully convicted because of illegally withheld evidence,” he said. “There has to be some accountability.”

Democratic Assemblyman Nick Perry, too, dismissed concerns that had been raised by the District Attorneys Association of New York, saying judges had raised similar issues when a conduct commission examining jurists’ behavior was approved.

“When we try to provide opportunities for the public to seek accountability in regards to people with a lot of power, that’s usually the response,” he said.

The measure now will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his consideration.

Poll Backed Fantasy Sports Firms Finds New Yorkers Back Sports Gambling

A poll funded by fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel found few New Yorkers plan to place wagers on sporting events, but most want to see the Legislature approve a law regulating sports betting.

The poll, conducted by McLaughlin Associates and The Parkside Group, found 22 percent of New Yorkers plan to wager on a sporting event, but 73 percent said they would back regulatory action by the state Legislature, with 19 percent opposing it.

The poll comes as lawmakers are seeking to potentially salvage a bill that would regulate sports gambling in New York, a proposal made after the Supreme Court in May struck down a federal ban on sports gambling, leaving the issue up to the states.

Disagreements on Monday at the Capitol continued between lawmakers over how to regulate sports betting, but New York voters surveyed backed the idea of placing strict regulations on the practice.

The poll found most New Yorkers, 72 percent, would support making it illegal for players, coaches and umpires to place bets. Eighty-percent would back requiring casinos to cooperate with integrity commissions to conduct investigates backed by the major sports leagues.

The poll also found 61 percent of voters would support mobile betting on a cellphone or tablet as neighboring states like New Jersey begin to allow sports betting outside of casinos.

4 Things To Watch For As The Session Ends

From the Morning Memo:

There are three more days scheduled in the legislative session for the remainder of the year. That can simultaneously be both a blink of an eye or an eternity, when it comes to final agreements. Here are four things to watch for as the legislative session winds down.

1. Teacher evaluation changes. Lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly are generally supportive of a push to gut a 2015 law that links student performance on state examinations to teacher evaluations. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tacitly signaled he would sign it. The New York State United Teachers union is pushing hard for it to get done. But the push and pull over the bill’s passage leaves it in doubt, as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan earlier this year added what amounts to a poison pill for Assembly Democrats: Expanding charter schools in New York City. The Flanagan bill, which also gives more autonomy to Yeshivas, has turned NYSUT’s scorn onto Senate Republicans, many of whom continue to push for a vote on the bill the Assembly has already approved. With more time, an agreement is possible. But Democrats are disinclined to do more on charter schools at this point in the session, while Republicans appear to have little incentive to change the law at the moment.

2. Speed camera expansion. Supporters of expanding speed cameras near New York City schools were disappointed this March when the state budget agreement failed to deliver on that proposal. The plan would have increased camera locations from 140 locations to 290, but now the continuation of the entire program, credited with slowing down cars near schools, is in jeopardy. The speed camera expansion is mired in Albany political gamesmanship, as Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat aligned with Senate Republicans, wants to add police officers at New York City schools — a measure resisted by Assembly Democrats. The impasse is leading New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to rally later for the bill that both preserves and expands the existing speed camera program. Felder’s stance carries a lot of weight given his key status with preserving the majority for Republicans in the state Senate.

3. Sports betting. Barring a last-minute miracle, don’t put any money on lawmakers reaching an agreement on crafting regulations for sports betting in New York. Spurred by a Supreme Court decision in May leaving the issue up to the states, New York lawmakers for the last several weeks have sought to hammer out an agreement for a sports betting regulatory plan. Officials from the major sports leagues, basketball and baseball included, have given input, hoping for language that helps them to crackdown on illicit bets. At the same time, the bill would enable lawmakers to set regulations for wagering on mobile devices. Still, action seems unlikely after Assembly Democrats met last week to discuss the plan in a closed-door conference. Lawmakers have raised concerns over constitutionality issues as well as the impact on tribal-run casinos. One lawmaker, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, in a statement Friday cited the NFL’s policy restricting public protests by players during the National Anthem as impetus for opposing the move. New York could still have a form of sports betting at its existing casinos, with the gaming commission empowered to develop regulations under a pre-existing law.

4. Will Gov. Cuomo engage? Seeking a third term and fighting a two-front war of both a primary and general election opponent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a rare sight at the Capitol since the budget was approved at the end of March. Cuomo has said publicly most of his priorities were accomplished in the state’s spending plan. He’s spent the last several weeks hammering Republicans in the Senate over a proposed “red flag” gun control bill that is meant to keep guns away from those considered a danger to themselves or others. The bill appears unlikely to gain a vote this week in the state Senate, though supporters believe it would pass if considered by the full chamber. Cuomo, instead, has been playing a very visible outside game, speaking directly to voters on the gun control issue three months before he faces actress and public education advocate Cynthia Nixon in a Democratic primary. Well ahead in the polls, Cuomo is nevertheless leaving little to chance when it comes to his own re-election bid. It’s led some Republicans to accuse Cuomo of already sliding to the political season as he promotes the gun control bill. Bottom line, Cuomo’s absence suggests he won’t be playing air traffic controller for a “big ugly” deal with lawmakers weaving every measure together.

DAs Protest Conduct Panel Bill’s Passage

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would create a conduct review commission for local prosecutors is being opposed by the District Attorneys Association of the State New York, with the group arguing it would undermine prosecutorial discretion and compromise independence.

The bill was approved Thursday in the Republican-controlled state Senate. It’s expected to receive a vote in the Democratic-led Assembly next week before the legislative session ends for the year.

“This bill is flagrantly unconstitutional and violates the separation of powers. DAASNY has already informed the Governor and his staff of the constitutional issues raised by this bill,” said DAASNY President, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara. “The bill is so flawed that virtually every legislator who voted for this bill acknowledged during the floor debate that the bill already requires chapter amendments.”

The organization pointed to the existence of the Attorney Grievance Committee that oversees prosecutors.

But the panel the bill would create, its sponsors argue, would set up an entity similar to the judicial conduct commission, providing a new level of oversight. The governor would retain superseding authority to remove district attorneys from office, a power that rests in the state constitution.

“Prosecutors have substantial discretion over how to prosecute cases,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco said. “This commission would serve as an impartial forum for reviewing allegations made against prosecutors to determine whether they acted properly in certain criminal cases.”

Greens Seek To Draw Contrast With Both Cuomo And Nixon

From the Morning Memo:

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins doesn’t want voters to think the choice for progressives is between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon.

Hawkins, who is launching his third bid for governor this year atop the Green Party ticket, has sought to draw contrasts in recent weeks between his candidacy and the platform of both Cuomo and Nixon.

It’s potentially a challenge: Nixon is seeking to draw liberal votes away from Cuomo in the primary and, should she remain in the race on the Working Families Party line, come November. For now, polling has shown Cuomo with mostly steady support from liberal voters.

But Hawkins has pointed out releases and elsewhere that both Democratic candidates are not necessarily good for New York on issues like the property tax cap.

The measure is a signature issue for Cuomo and Nixon has said she supports it, but wants to make it easier to override.

“Tax cap is a campaign sound bite, not a sound policy,” Hawkins said. “There is nothing progressive in Nixon’s call for an easier voter override of the cap. The cap still freezes the inequities in funding schools and local government services between low- and middle-income communities and affluent communities. It still institutionalizes rising property taxes.”

Hawkins insisted his plan would lead to a property tax cut, by shifting from local property and sales taxes to a progressive state income and stock transfer tax.

“Then the state should use those revenues to provide adequate and equitable school funding and to pay for the state’s unfunded mandates on local governments with increased revenue sharing,” Hawkins said.

At the same time, Hawkins in an email Wednesday question Nixon’s prior support for Hillary Clinton and noted the Green party outpolled the Working Families Party in the previous election — a result that ultimately determines placement on the ballot in the next election.

“Now the media is starstruck with actress Cynthia Nixon,” he said. “As she challenges Gov. Cuomo in the Democratic primary with Working Families Party backing, the media give regular coverage to self-styled ‘progressive’ Democrats, which includes Cuomo as well as Nixon, Bill DeBlasio, Zephyr Teachout, and the rest of the WFP-endorsed Democrats.”

Comptroller: DOH Paid Out $1.3B In Medicaid Premiums To People With Private Insurance

An audit released Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found the Department of Health paid out $1.28 billion in Medicaid manage care premiums to people who already had private insurance.

The money, according to the report issued by DiNapoli’s office, was paid out over six years.

“Glitches in the state Department of Health’s payment system and other problems led to over a billion dollars in unnecessary spending,” DiNapoli said. “The department needs to improve its procedures and stop this waste of taxpayer money.”

The audit found $70.6 million in premiums were paid to managed care organizations that were realted to a third-party insurer. At the same time, Medicaid also paid out more than $591 million in inappropriate managed care premiums despite knowing of third-party enrollees’ coverage.

The audit recommended the Department of Health to bolster its monitoring efforts for inappropriate managed care premiums and implement controls that would remove those not enrolled through the New York State of Health.

New York’s Medicaid program is one of the costliest in the country, with 7.4 million enrolled and claims totaling $58 billion.

JCOPE Under Scrutiny After Hoyt Report

JCOPE

The top ethics and lobbying watchdog in Albany is coming under fire, with critics saying the commission needs to change in order to better investigate wrongdoing in state government.

“The real problem here is that JCOPE can’t be trusted,” said Zephyr Teachout, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, at a Capitol press conference on Monday. “When you can’t trust the watchdog body, then that actually hurts the public.”

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, known as JCOPE for short, raised eyebrows Monday when it cleared former Assemblyman and ex-Cuomo administration official Sam Hoyt who is being sued for sexual harassment of violating the public officer’s law.

Hoyt was cleared in a report backed by Executive Director Seth Agata, a former Cuomo administration lawyer. Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout called for Agata’s resignation. The commission does not comment by law on specific findings “can only make findings public under limited circumstances, which often prevents JCOPE from being able to explain its actions; otherwise, the Commission’s work is confidential,” JCOPE said in a statement.

“We really need to make sure that JCOPE is constituted in a way that it can address sexual misconduct allegation and that’s going to require some structural changes,” Teachout said.

JCOPE’s top officials are appointed by the governor and the top legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate. Reformers say that’s created problems with oversight.

“They weren’t designed to do a lot of the work they should be doing,” said Sen. Liz Krueger. “They need to be an independent entity accountable to no one in power.”

One proposal would appoint judges to a new watchdog entity that could exercise independence from the legislative and executive branches.

“The Joint Commission on Public Ethics was created as part of a political deal,” said New York Public Interest Research Group Legislative Director Blair Horner. “It’s a political creature. In many ways it’s answerable to those who appoint it.”

Albany will also be watching for the outcome of a reported investigation into the sexual harassment allegation leveled against Senator Jeff Klein, who had called for the investigation and denies the claim made by a former staffer. Klein himself called for the investigation.

“This has been a failed experiment now that’s gone on for decades,” Horner said. “The commission since it’s directly appointed by the people it regulates, it has an inherent conflict of interest, an inherent flaw.”