Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Senate Dems Blast Defund Planned Parenthood Measure

ascDemocratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday blasted a measure proposed by a Republican assemblyman that would block state funding of Planned Parenthood.

The bill proposed by Assemblyman Steve Katz, who is due to retire at the end of the year, stands little chance of clearing the Democratic-dominated chamber.

But Stewart-Cousins said the bill introduced this week by Katz is an example of how abortion rights are under fire not just nationally, but in New York as well (Planned Parenthood supporters, too, have pointed out the organization provides a range of health services to women).

“We have been told repeatedly that there are no threats to reproductive rights here in New York State, yet legislation and efforts to de-legitimize women’s health organizations prove that our rights are very much under attack,” she said in a statement. “This bill caters to the fearmongers and anti-choice extremists who refuse to acknowledge the facts about Planned Parenthood.”

Stewart-Cousins on Monday attended a rally with Family Planning Advocates of New York, where she urged passage of legislation that would strengthen abortion rights in New York.

Sen. John Bonancic at that rally told reporters he would support the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would enhance abortion rights and codify Roe v. Wade in state law, becoming the first Republican lawmaker in the Senate to do so.

Nevertheless, Stewart-Cousins linked the Katz legislation to Republicans overall in New York and their stance on abortion.

“This essential organization provides vital, life-saving screenings and support to millions of women throughout New York State, and for New York Republicans to ignore this fact demonstrates just how out of touch they truly are,” she said. “I hope that people understand these facts and finally join with the Senate Democrats to pass the Reproductive Health Act.”

Stewart-Cousins: ‘Like Groundhog Day’

For Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the latest conviction of a state lawmaker is deja vu all over again.

In a radio interview Thursday with WCNY, Stewart-Cousins said her Democratic conference would continue to push for new ethics legislation — including the closure of the LLC “loophole” in campaign finance law as well as the creation of a full-time Legislature that limits outside income.

But she acknowledged the pattern of arrest, followed by conviction, rarely leads to robust reforms in the Legislature.

“It’s almost like Groundhog Day around here,” she said on The Capitol Pressroom, adding, “Constantly the Senate Republicans have really just ignored them and continued on the way this has been going.”

The chances of major structural changes to the Legislature in 2016 seem nil for the moment. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan shot down questions about a potential move toward a “full time” Legislature that would boost pay, but cap what lawmakers can earn outside of government.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has thrown cold water on the idea, noting that it would need a constitutional change.

But Stewart-Cousins said there should be an acknowledgement for those who enter the public sector that they won’t earn as much money as they would elsewhere. In other words, it shouldn’t be about the pay check.

“We live in a great country,” she said. “There are millions of ways to make money in this country. Public service isn’t one of those places.”

In Letter, Stewart-Cousins Pushes For Community Schools Aid

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday released a letter to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia calling for a boost in funding for community schools in New York.

The letter comes as Elia, who took over the top post at the Department of Education this summer, has called for increased attention and resources be diverted to underfunded and low-achieving school districts.

In her letter, the Yonkers Democrat writes that community schools, which provide an array of services for community members in addition to schooling, are “critically important” for children and should have additional funding allocated to them.

“These schools would provide a high quality, culturally relevant curriculum; health, social and emotional services in high needs communities for both students and their families; and sahre best practices across the state and nation,” she wrote in the letter. “While still relatively new in New York state, the community school program has already demonstrated its value here and nationally by increasing student performance and reducing level of violence, bulling and other problem behaviors.”

The Yonkers Democrat is due to speak later this evening with Board of Regents member Judith Johnson at the Westchester for Change forum on educational inequality. She is expected to focus on community schools benefiting at-risk kids in her remarks.

Senate Democrats earlier this year pushed for a community schools grant program that would provide wraparound social services and empower the education commissioner to award competitive grants to eligible school districts that use existing buildings for community-based hubs.

10 20 15 Community Schools Letter to Commissioner Elia by Nick Reisman

Stewart-Cousins Teases Skoufis Senate Run

ascDemocratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Saturday teased the possible state Senate run of Assemblyman James Skoufis this past weekend while speaking with the Orange County Democratic Committee.

Stewart-Cousins was in Orange County to give the keynote address at the committee’s annual gala, an appearance that comes as Democrats have stepped up their criticism of Republican Sen. Bill Larkin, whose seat they consider to be a potential pickup opportunity next year.

“This is my foray up here because of my good friends, but also because of the promise of the future,” she said in her remarks. “I believe that the day where we have Democratic senators from Orange County is fast approaching.”

Stewart-Cousins then turned and nodded at Skoufis, who was sitting about a foot away in the front: “So, it’s good to be here, James. So nice to see you.”

The Hudson Valley district is due to be one of several battleground districts next year as Senate Republicans hold on to a narrow majority in the chamber.

Larkin plans to run for re-election, and the Senate GOP’s political arm has called the effort to oust him “odd and misguided.”

Gillibrand, ASC Appear At Gun Trafficking Roundtable

gillibrandU.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, along with state Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Friday participated in a roundtable discussion to address how to crack down on gun trafficking.

The event, held in New Rochelle, also highlighted Gillibrand’s bill that would make gun trafficking a federal offense.

“I am proud to work with all the members of law enforcement, advocates, and community members who participated in today’s roundtable meeting and share the goal of cracking down on gun trafficking to keep illegal guns off our streets,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “I am not willing to throw my hands in the air and say nothing can be done while lives are being senselessly lost due to weapons being in the hands of criminals.”

The discussion also comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes for federal action on gun control in the wake of the shooting death of administration lawyer Carey Gabay and the mass shooting this month at an Oregon community college. More >

Stewart-Cousins Sidesteps Tkaczyk’s WEP Push

womensequalitySenate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview Monday sidestepped a question about former Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk’s efforts to install alternative rules to the Women’s Equality Party, a ballot line formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during last year’s election.

In an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom, the Yonkers Democrat said it is “good that women are involved” in the party, which achieved ballot status through the current election cycle after Cuomo and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, received more than 50,000 votes on the line.

“If we’re going to have a Women’s Equality Party, I think it’s good that women are involved,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview. “I think it’s good that we support the broadest possible issues in terms of women’s equality and bolstering our opportunities in this state.”

Tkaczyk last week submitted alternative rules to be considered for the fledgling party, whose interim chairwoman is Barbara Fiala, a former Cuomo administration cabinet member now running for Senate in the Southern Tier. More >

Senate Dems: Rent Control Is A Statewide Issue

Senate Democrats unveiled their preferred vision for an extension and strengthening of rent control on Wednesday, saying the issue of affordable housing is a statewide one.

Rent control for New York City and the surrounding areas is due to expire next month and it is likely lawmakers will approve a “straight” extension with little to no changes to the regulations.

Democratic lawmakers in the mainline conference at a news conference said they would oppose efforts to extend rent control without strengthening the measures.

“To just get out of town and pass an extender as the laws are written now is unacceptable,” said Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

To that end, lawmakers introduced measures designed to end the practice of vacancy decontrol and place limits on improvements landlords can do to buildings they say lead to a hike in rent for a property.

“The core of this vacancy decontrol,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat. “It only exists because of the way Albany doesn’t work.”

Assembly Democrats last week approved their own version of a rent control measure, extending the laws to 2019 and ending vacancy decontrol as well.

Senate Republicans have shown little desire to strengthen the measures and are also negotiating the more nettlesome issue of the 421a tax abatement, a measure that has become a key concern in public corruption cases when it was last negotiated.

Senate Democrats for the moment are yet to take an official position on whether to back Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support for increasing the amount of affordable housing in the abatement extension or pushing for a prevailing wage measure as some housing advocates have sought.

“The conference realizes reforms need to be made,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We will be conferencing that today and are expecting to meet with the mayor to hear his proposals.”

Meanwhile, Stewart-Cousins said both rent control and the state’s cap on property tax increases should be viewed as separate issues. The tax cap is not due to expire until next year, but is intertwined with the rent control measure (in essence, one cannot be re-approved without the other).

“I’m in Westchester, both of things are important,” Stewart-Cousins said, noting several suburban communities have rent-controlled properties. “I think each of us come with the view for the entire state. New Yorkers are obviously concerned about taxes and New Yorkers are obviously concerned about affordable housing.”

She added: “I don’t know the need to combine them because I think individually they both matter.”

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are pushing for a permanent extension of the cap.

Panepinto Not Happy About GOP ‘Name Drop’ In Defense Of Skelos

State Senator Marc Panepinto and his supporters are firing back after the Buffalo-area Democrat was mentioned in a GOP defense of their initial decision not to replace Dean Skelos as Majority Leader.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Panepinto said.

In response to a failed Democratic effort to remove Skelos, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP Majority referenced Panepinto as an example of Democratic hypocrisy.

“They all seem to have extraordinarily short memories.  Just last year, Senators Stewart-Cousins and Gianaris chose a convicted criminal to run as their handpicked candidate for an important Western New York Senate seat and he is now a sitting member of their conference,” said Senate Republican Spokeswoman Kelly Cummings.

Panepinto was convicted of a misdemeanor election fraud violation in 2001.  He submitted voter signatures to the Board of Elections that turned out to be bogus and pleaded guilty to making false witness statements on petitions.

The Senate Republican Campaign Committee highlighted Panepinto’s past in a scathing and memorable TV ad.  Despite that, Panepinto was able to win a three way race for the 60th State Senate District.

“I made a mistake 14 years ago. I paid the price for it,” said Panepinto. “The Republicans paid $1 million to try to convince the voters of something they were unable to do. To compare what I did to bribery and extortion, an abuse of my public office as Dean Skelos has done, is ridiculous.”

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins weighed in during an interview with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin:

“It’s not like we’re talking apples to apples here. This is a Freshman Senator who was newly elected by people who were familiar with the facts and it was a 14 year old conviction. So he’s not the leader of the Senate, he’s not the leader of a conference, so he’s not setting policy for the chamber,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Olean Republican Cathy Young, who’s been mentioned as a potential replacement for Skelos, was particularly critical of Panepinto during last fall’s election.  Something he apparently hasn’t forgotten.

“It’s particularly galling that Senator Young, who was the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, raised tens of millions of dollars from the real estate interests in New York City, and called immediately for Shelly Silver’s ouster, is still embracing Dean Skelos as Majority Leader.  That level of cowardice and hypocrisy cannot go unchallenged” Panepinto said.

Panepinto questioned how Young and others could continue to support Skelos while Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy and GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino are calling for a change.

Young released a statement Tuesday supporting Skelos claiming a sudden change in leadership would disrupt the legislative process as the end of session draws near.

ASC: Delaying Evaluation Implementation A Minimal Step

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday called the effort to delay the implementation of teacher evaluations on the school district level a “minimum step” to alter the education policies included in the budget.

“Rushing to implement a new teacher evaluation system would be misguided,” Stewart-Cosuins said in a statement. “We’ve been down this road before and we’ve seen where faulty and fast implementation of poorly conceived education changes leads. Demonizing teachers, over-testing students and rushing major reforms will not improve our education system, it will only cause more problems. Delaying the implementation of this new teacher evaluation system is the minimum step that should be taken.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Wednesday announced she was asking Department of Education officials to extend the deadline for the implementation of the new evaluation criteria to September 2016.

The state budget tied the implementation of the evaluation criteria to a boost in school aid for districts that adopt the new measures by November.

The move to extend the deadline doesn’t go against the law approved in the budget. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement that such extensions should be for true hardship cases on the district level and be the “exception, not the rule.”

More broadly, state lawmakers have more or less embraced the decision by Tisch to extend the deadline as many had reluctantly voted to approve the education measures in the budget.

ASC: Education Commission ‘Unworkable’

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement released Wednesday afternoon called the proposed commission to implement education reforms “unworkable.”

In the statement, the Yonkers Democrat said any panel discussing potential reforms for the state’s public schools should include a representation that’s balanced, not just a “select few.”

“As discussions regarding a commission to reform New York’s education system continue and details begin to emerge, it is becoming clear that this potential commission is unworkable. Any commission created to review and amend our education system must be balanced and include representation from all stakeholders, not simply a select few. The priorities of this commission should be to improve the quality of education our students receive, and not simply continue the demonization of teachers.”

The details of the commission are not yet finalized, though Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday with reporters confirmed such a panel is under discussion.

The commission could be tasked with developing new criteria for teacher evaluations and include appointees from the Legislature and governor’s office.

Cuomo is still linking increased education funding to enacting policies.