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.”

Skoufis Says He’s Not Running For Orange County Exec

Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis on Thursday took himself out of contention for the Orange County executive’s race, announcing he would not be a candidate in a statement.

“My position in state government grants me an opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on our community while working in partnership with local officials,” he said.

“Representing parts of two counties in the Assembly, I lend a substantial voice on regional and statewide tax, education, labor, veterans, health, economic development, public protection, environmental, insurance, and transportation policy. While county government performs many important functions, its purview is narrower in scope and oftentimes subject to state approval.”

Skoufis has been talked up as a potential candidate for the state Senate district represented by Republican Sen. Bill Larkin. The Democratic lawmaker, first elected in 2012, had run afoul of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this year amid a disagreement over how to structure a proposal for free tuition at state university and college campuses.

Lawmakers: $12M Needed For Refugee Re-Settlement

Democratic lawmakers who represent upstate New York cities called on Wednesday for $12 million in state funding to bolster refugee re-settlement efforts amid uncertainty over the federal ban on migration to the United State.

“Upstate cities — we welcome refugees. We welcome refugees because we know they rebuild our neighborhoods, our cities and help us build our economies,” said Buffalo Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan at a news conference. “We’re extending the welcome mat to refugees, we have for more than a decade and we want to make sure this program keeps going.”

Upstate cities have over the years since an influx of refugees, including Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Utica. In Erie County alone, 1,800 refugees were re-settled last year. Ninety-four percent of the 5,028 refugees who traveled to New York were sent to upstate communities.

But the concern from agencies that handle refugee re-settlement is the potential to lose federal funding due to the travel ban. Settlement agencies receive $950 for each person in order to provide transitional services over 90 days. The concern is that once the ban is lifted, federal funding won’t be available to handle newly arrived migrants with refugee status.

The money is being called for as President Donald Trump’s 120-day ban on refugee travel to the United States is in legal limbo. Federal courts have upheld challenges to the ban, which also prohibits travel from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days.

Trump has signaled he may submit a revised executive order even as his administration moves toward appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even with the ban under a legal stay, lawmakers said the order has wreaked havoc on funding for the re-settlement agenices.

“It’s pretty urgent because the complicated legal chaos caused by the Trump ban has sent shock waves through the legal communities,” Ryan said. “Because the ban has been stayed, the light switch didn’t just turn back on.”

Lawmakers are also concerned with the financial hit local economics could take with the ban. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi represents Utica, a city that has been a destination for refugees.

“This travel ban is having moral implications on our country, it’s have economic implications on our upstate cities,” he said.

Lawmakers want the money included in the final budget agreement, due to pass March 31. At the news conference Wednesday morning, they said they had spoken with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to have the issue raised in the budget talks.

Heastie: Legislature Should Stand On Equal Footing With Governor

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought more authority over the budget after it is approved, legislative leaders are pushing back.

On Monday, it was Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who questioned the so-called lump sum arrangements sought by Cuomo in his $152 billion spending plan.

On Tuesday, it was Flanagan’s Democratic counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie, who reiterated the Legislature’s prerogative in the budget-making process.

“I’d say the last couple of years I’ve pointed out in particular budget situations the Legislature should have good standing,” Heastie said. “My position hasn’t changed in that regard. I’m sure my colleagues standing here with me know that hasn’t changed. As I’ve said many times, the Legislature is an equal branch of government and should be respected.”

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has also raised concerns with Cuomo’s effort to have mid-year changes to the budget after the spending plan is approved by lawmakers. The budget is expected to pass by March 31.

Assembly Dems: Criminal Justice Reform A Priority

Assembly Democrats are emphasizing a package of a dozen criminal justice reform measures with measures designed to make it easier to obtain bail, enhance the grand jury process and speed up the process of bringing cases to trial.

And the package includes a long-sought goal for Assembly and Senate Democrats: Raising the age of criminal responsibility, removing 16 and 17-year-olds from the criminal court system.

Speaker Carl Heastie at a news conference flanked by advocates and rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday wouldn’t commit to holding up the budget from passing to including the measure, but insisted the policy remains a priority for his conference.

“I don’t want to make declarations, but I’ve expressed to Senator Klein and Senator Flanagan how important raise the age and criminal justice reform is to me, but I haven’t made any declarations,” he said. “It’s a pretty serious issue for me.”

Raising the age has stalled in the Legislature as lawmakers debate how to adjudicate cases involving those between 16 and 17 and whether to send non-violent cases to the family court, which would require a boost in funding.

“We would not want to burden the system,” Heastie said. “We want to have a system that works and if we’re going to ask the family court system to handle these children, then we will have to include the resources.”

The Democratic-controlled chamber began passing the legislation on Monday and are taking up bills throughout the day on Tuesday.

The package also includes reforms to sentencing and wrongful convictions, “ban the box” provisions for employment applications and changes to solitary confinement.

Hikind Urges Schumer To Drop Support For Ellison

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind on Tuesday urged U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to drop his endorsement of Rep. Keith Ellison to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Hikind, a conservative Democrat and Orthodox Jew, cited Ellison’s previous rhetoric on the Nation of Islam.

“Keith Ellison has disqualified himself from becoming the next chair of the DNC,” said Hikind in a statement. “Ellison is the most polarizing choice. Not only are his views radical, but they are divisive. Whether his embracing of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan or his support of the one-sided Goldstone Report, Ellison is clearly not the leader anyone should embrace.”

Hikind has launched an online petition to urge Schumer, who assumed the Senate minority leader post, to rescind the endorsement.

“Senator Schumer, are there no mainstream candidates to lead us?” asked Hikind. “Instead of bringing Democrats together, Ellison will further divide the Party. Senator Schumer, pull the plug on your support for Ellison. He will be a disaster for the Democratic Party,” said Hikind.

Hikind has come under criticism himself after appearing in blackface at a Purim celebration.

Assembly Eyeing Ride Hailing After Break

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie expects his chamber will take up the Democratic conference’s own version of ride hailing legislation after the Legislature’s week off.

Lawmakers will not be in session next week, returning Feb. 28.

The Republican-led Senate previously approved a ride hailing measure that allows apps like Lyft and Uber to operate outside of New York City, imposing a lower tax on hails than the provision included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan.

In the Assembly, the issue has been a trickier one to navigate both insurance regulations as well as the concerns raised by traditional cab companies who have fought the ride hailing measures over the years.

“We’ll still have the meetings particular among the members not from New York City to see what direction we’d like to go,” he said. “There’s a lot of different ideas, a lot of different things to cover.”

Assembly To Take Up Criminal Justice Package

The Democratic-led Assembly over the next two days will take up a package of a dozen bills aimed at reforming the criminal justice system in the state.

The measures include long-sought bills such as raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and enhancing grand jury transparency as well as enshrining a special prosecutor for cases in which civilians die in encounters with police.

“We think the system has been long in need of reform,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in an interview.

The bills face an unlikely path in the Republican-led Senate, where GOP lawmakers have been hesitant to embrace reform measures.

“It’s really about trying to show where the Assembly is,” Heastie said.

Diaz Compares Heastie To Leonidas In Bag Tax Debate

Bronx Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz on Thursday in his latest “What Your Should Know” essays compared Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to the classical Spartan hero King Leonidas in his support for delaying the implementation of a 5-cent fee for bag usage in New York City.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you should know that all of the residents and shoppers in New York City will have some relief for at least one year, and will not have to pay the 5 cents (5¢) per plastic bag while shopping for groceries and other items,” Diaz wrote in the emailed statement. “This is all because then came New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his troops, who like King Leonidas the great Spartan Warrior, who led his 300 hundred warriors against the impossible.”

The essay casts Heastie, a Bronx Democrat like Diaz, in a starkly heroic light over the fee debate in Albany.

“We were all ready to accept this hardship that would be imposed upon senior citizens, the poor and the needy,” Diaz wrote. “And then came Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, showing great compassion and concern not only for senior citizens, the poor and the needy, but for everyone in the City of New York.”

Heastie backed the delay as the fee is set to take effect next week in New York City. The bill, approved this week by both chambers of the Legislature, is now on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, but he is yet to say which direction he will take.

Heastie had expressed reservation with the fee implementation, saying that while he understands the environmental concerns he is also worried of the impact on poor consumers.

Should Cuomo approve the bill, it would effectively kill the surcharge on bags in New York City as it would have been re-approved by a newly elected city Council.

Heastie Acknowledges Tough Vote On Sanctuary State Status

A day after his conference was able to approve a bill that would prevent law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration efforts, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged the vote was a difficult one.

The measure was approved with a two-vote margin.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Heastie pointed to the advantage of having a large majority in the Assembly that allows the Democratic conference to make statements on priorities.

“Some of these votes are tough,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we love to have such a big majority — to be able to get tough votes passed. We wanted to send a message to the world about where we stand, where our hearts are, when it comes to immigration in this state.”

The bill faces little chance of passage in the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said he believed some provisions of the bill are illegal.