Discussions Held For Special Session On Minimum Wage Hike

senate1From the Morning Memo:

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes a phased-in $15 minimum wage in exchange for a possible tax cut aimed at businesses, talk in Albany has swirled around the potential for a special session by the end of the year to deal with both issues, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

The conversations, initiated by the governor’s office, have been preliminary. At this point, the chances of the Legislature returning to Albany to deal with the issue are low, the sources cautioned.

Nevertheless, the move would potentially clear the minimum wage issue and its thorny politics before the start of the 2016 legislative session, one that will proceed what’s expected to be a pitched battle for control of the state Senate.

Senate Republicans, who have expressed weary dissatisfaction with another minimum wage increase, hold a narrow majority in the chamber.

Still, the GOP conference hasn’t definitively ruled out passage of a $15 minimum wage as Cuomo has floated the possibility of linking business friendly tax cuts to the phased-in increase. More >

Lawmakers Hope For Second Look At Teacher Evaluations

testsFrom the Morning Memo:

As a task force created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to consider overhauling the state’s controversial Common Core standards, state lawmakers hope the latest teacher evaluation law will also be up for changes, too.

“We are seeing a reset button being hit in regards to Common Core, but it is going to have an impact on evaluations as well,” said Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald, who represents a Capital Region-area district.

Cuomo last week formed a new task force that will consider changes to the standards, which New York adopted in 2010, before he becamse governor. But Cuomo has felt the brunt of the opposition to the standards, with parents and teachers criticizing what they see as an over reliance on testing.

“The goal should be simple: The best education system for our children,” Cuomo said in a video released to promote the task force’s formation. “That’s it.”

Cuomo, too, signaled he was potentially open to considering changes to the evaluation system, which was updated with new criteria in the April state budget.

“No one wants an evaluation system that is inaccurate or unfair,” Cuomo said. More >

Heastie Appoints Leader Of Ethics And Compliance Office

heastierubikscubeAssembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday appointed an executive director for the newly formed Office of Ethics and Compliance — a key pledge he made when the Bronx lawmaker took over the speaker’s post in February.

Heastie is turning to Jane Feldman, the first executive director of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

The New York native says she is excited to come back to the state (she is a graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and earned a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University).

“I am honored that Speaker Heastie and the committee selected me to serve in this important post. After years of building a career surrounding government and ethics, I am excited to return to my home state to help the Assembly accomplish its ethics and policy goals,” Feldman said in a statement.

Heastie praised Feldman’s experience, saying her resume and experience made her stand out.

“Thanks to the hard work of the Assembly search committee, we were able to reach strong candidates from all across the country,” Heastie said. “Jane Feldman’s experience, especially her time as the first executive director of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, made her stand out from the other qualified applicants. I know that Ms. Feldman will be a valuable resource to members and staff to ensure adherence to laws and regulations.”

More >

Scarborough Sentenced To 13 Months

scarboroughDemocratic former Assemblyman Bill Scarborough was sentenced on Monday to 13 months in prison and two years of supervised released after he pleaded guilty to state and federal corruption charges.

The 69-year-old former Queens lawmaker is also being ordered to pay $53,355 in restitution to the state and forfeit the same amount to the federal government.

Scarborough’s guilty plea in May to charges that he misused campaign funds and federal charges that he improperly sought per diem payments automatically ejected him from the Assembly.

“It is a sad day when an elected official is sentenced to imprisonment, but it is a serious crime when such an official steals the state funds he is sworn to safeguard,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian in a statement. “Former Assemblyman Scarborough betrayed the people’s trust when he repeatedly lied about when he had been in Albany to line his pockets. We hope that this prosecution helps bring an end to abuses of the state legislature’s per diem system.” More >

Dolan And Lawmakers Condemn Ticket Scalping Ahead Of Papal Visit

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and state and federal-level lawmakers from New York condemned on Monday an effort by some to scalp tickets ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to New York.

The Archdiocese of New York, along with the New York City Administration, offered free tickets ahead of Francis’s visit, but reports have emerged that some of the tickets — given away in lotteries for the Central Park procession — are being resold online at eBay and on Craigslist.

“Tickets for events with Pope Francis are distributed free for a reason – to enable as many New Yorkers as possible, including those of modest means, to be able to participate in the Holy Father’s visit to New York,” Dolan said in a statement. “To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for.”

In addition to Dolan, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Michael Cusick are knocking the ticket scalping.

Squadron and Cusick, meanwhile, are highlighting a previously introduced bill that would ban the re-sale of tickets for mor than their face value to charity or non-profit events. More >

Update: WNY Assemblywoman Turns Over Cell Phone And Computer Records As Part Of Sexual Harassment Probe

New details Thursday, in the sexual harassment and retaliation investigation of a Western New York Assemblywoman.  The attorney for Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak says they have taken steps to cooperate with a preliminary investigation by the Assembly Ethics Committee.

Buffalo-based attorney Steven Cohen told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen, who broke the story last week, that Wozniak has turned over her cell phone, email and copies of all her hard drives to the Ethics Committee.

“Assemblywoman Wozniak has said she’s got nothing to fear and she’s directed me just to cooperate in turning over all of the evidence so we did that today,” Cohen said.

The committee has assigned an independent law professor, Merrick Rossein from the City University of New York, to conduct the interviews in the investigation.  Cohen said Wozniak will be interviewed last, September 28th.

Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, Former Wozniak Staffer Elias Farah

Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak, Former Wozniak Staffer Elias Farah

Cohen told several media sources that Wozniak’s former Legislative Director Elias Farah filed the complaint.  Farah, who declined comment, ran for Erie County Legislature in 2013.  Sources have told Time Warner Cable News that Wozniak and Farah did have a sexual relationship, although Cohen would not confirm that.

“I too find it hard to believe that any credible complaint could be made against this assemblywoman to be intimidating or harassing anyone,” said Cohen.  “She (Wozniak) and her husband are bearing under the embarrassment of these kinds of allegations but both of them are confident that they’re going to get through this,” said Cohen.

Cohen expressed frustration with the Ethics Committee’s process.  He said he was never given a copy of the complaint or even told initially who made it.

“I have represented members of the United States Congress, military commanders in ethics investigations and never before have I not been given the charges that have been placed against my client and never before have I been told that I’m not allowed to investigate it.” Cohen said.

Cohen has said repeatedly he’s not only working to clear Wozniak’s name but he’s also preserving evidence for a defamation suit against Farah.

“If it is determined that this was a complaint made with actual malice, we will seek to bring the complainant to justice through the courts,” said Cohen.

Wozniak has made no public appearances since allegations surfaced last month.  Cohen made it clear she is continuing to represent her district and will be addressing the allegations soon.

“Once the Assembly Investigation Committee, Ethics Committee, unties my hands we would look forward to a press conference and we would look forward to commenting on everything,” Cohen added.

Wozniak was elected in 2014 to the 143rd seat vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak who retired.  Several of Gabryszak’s former staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

NYSUT To Protest Campbell Brown Appearance (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

The New York State United Teachers union plans to stage a formal protest of former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s appearance at the Business Council’s annual meeting on Sept. 16.

At the same time, the statewide union is urging state lawmakers in a letter to not attend the meeting, including the opening reception and dinner that Brown, a vocal proponent of the education reform movement, is expected to attend.

“We ask that you cancel any plans to attend the opening reception and dinner of the New York State Business Council Annual meeting, and stand with public school students, parents and educators,” NYSUT wrote in a letter to state lawmakers, obtained by Capital Tonight. “Please support our great public schools, students and educators and do not cross this picket line.”

In the letter — which was signed by both NYSUT Vice President Andy Pallotta and Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Billy Easton — Brown is billed as someone who opposes “full funding of our public schools, promote high stakes testings and supports the continued privatization of public schools.” More >

Update: Assembly Ethics Committee Investigates Sexual Harassment Complaint Against WNY Assemblywoman

Last week we learned a Western New York Assemblywoman had hired an attorney following what her lawyer described as “unsubstantiated accusations” made by a former male staffer.  Wednesday we learned more about those accusations and how they’re being investigated.

Time Warner Cable News Buffalo is reporting the Assembly Ethics Committee has started a preliminary investigation into a sexual harassment claim against Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak.  Sources tell Ryan Whalen, Wozniak and others have been scheduled for interviews as part of the committee’s probe.

Buffalo-based attorney Steve Cohen is representing Wozniak.  Cohen said last week he was not only working to clear Wozniak’s name but he was also preserving evidence for a defamation suit against Wozniak’s accuser.

Wednesday, he acknowledged there is an investigation.

“We can confirm that there has been an accusation brought against the Assemblywoman.  We are now looking forward to cooperating with the investigation to clear her good name.  Once that is accomplished, we will turn our attention to bringing her accuser to justice.  There are consequences for bringing malicious false accusations,” said Cohen.

Cohen reiterated that he has not received any formal charges against his client.  The chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee would not confirm or make any comment about the investigation.

The Assembly Ethics Committee is an eight-member bi-partisan committee that includes two Western New York Republicans, Joe Giglio of Gowanda and Peter Lawrence from Greece.

Wozniak was elected in 2014 to the 143rd seat vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak who retired.  Several of Gabryszak’s former staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

Bill Would Require State Contractors To Report Wage Differences

moneyTwo Democratic state lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would require state contractors to reveal the differences in wages based on gender, race and ethnicity.

The legislation, backed by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, would require the disclosure of employee compensation in order to receive a state contract.

The measure is designed to encourage companies to address gender and racial wage gaps and is modeled on federal contractor rules.

“When it comes to closing the gender wage gap, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Wage discrimination is unacceptable – plain and simple – and sends a message that women are worth less than men,” Hoylman said. “Disclosure will help incentivize companies that do business with New York to take steps to close their wage gap and, in the process, ensure that equal pay for equal work prevails in the Empire State.”

The bill would make equal pay reports of state contractors publicly available, but would not reveal individual worker pay, the total number of hours worked or the average per hour wages. Small businesses that employ fewer than 100 workers would be exempted from the requirement. More >

WNY Assemblywoman Hires Attorney To Defend Against ‘Unsubstantiated Accusations’

21537471_BF Angela Wozniak 143rd Assembly Candidate VO 102914kl  - 00005019

A Western New York assemblywoman has hired an attorney to defend against what are being described as malicious accusations. Buffalo-area attorney Steven Cohen told Time Warner Cable News reporter Ryan Whalen Friday night he’s representing Cheektowaga Republican Angela Wozniak after she learned a man was making unspecified claims against her.

Time Warner Cable News has been following this story for several weeks now, and has learned from multiple sources that the individual making the accusations is a former Wozniak staffer. Cohen said to his knowledge there has been no formal complaint, and neither he nor Wozniak have been provided with any details regarding any charges lodged against her.

“Consistent with good ethical practice we are taking steps to preserve any and all evidence that anybody might be interested in looking at in order to clear Angela’s good name,” Cohen said. “To the extent that this individual is spreading falsehoods with actual malice against Assemblywoman Wozniak, we intend to bring a defamation suit.”

Wozniak is under 30 years old, and considered in political circles to be a rising star in Western New York’s Republican party. She won the 143rd Assembly Seat in 2014 after it was vacated by Democrat Dennis Gabryszak, who retired amid allegations of sexual harassment against a number of female staffers.