Assembly

Assembly Spending $80K Sexual Harassment Policy

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli approved an $80,000 contract last month for an Albany-based law firm that will help the Democratic-led Assembly develop a sexual harassment and retaliation policy.

DiNapoli, records show, approved the contract last month with the firm Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP.

The same firm in June signed a $14,000 contract with the Assembly for the sexual harassment complaints came after it was revealed Assemblyman Micah Kellner had conducted inappropriate chats over the Internet with a legislative aide in 2009, but never made it past the desk of counsel Bill Collins.

Kellner is appealing a decision from the Assembly Ethics Committee that stripped him of his committee chairmanship and legislative office staff.

Coincidentally, the law firm had contributed $1,000 to now ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democrat who resigned in 2013 following an ethics report detailing harassment and abuse by the lawmaker toward female legislative aides.

In January, western New York Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned after it was revealed he had sexually harassed multiple women in his office.

The following month, the Assembly approved $205,000 for another independent law firm, Rossein Associates, to respond to sexual-harassment complaints.

Dream Act Supporters Blast Grisanti Ad

From the morning memo:

Supporters of the DREAM Act are blasting a campaign ad from Buffalo Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti that highlights his opposition to the legislation.

Grisanti, who is considered a moderate given his votes in favor of the gun control bill known as the SAFE Act and support for same-sex marriage, released a TV ad that touts his opposition to the measure, as well as the public financing of political campaigns and providing college inmates with access to college courses.

For supporters of the DREAM Act, Grisanti’s opposition comes off especially harsh.

“What the campaign ad unveiled today makes obvious is that the Republican leadership’s willingness to allow a Senate vote on the DREAM Act had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with policy,” said Sen. Jose Peralta, a Queens Democrat. “While there is a growing consensus among business, labor and Republican and Democratic leaders across the country on the importance and economic benefits of reforms such as the DREAM Act,New York Republicans cling to narrow-minded ideals in a misguided bid to keep to the right of Rick Perry.”

The measure, which provides tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants, was voted down in the Senate after it failed to achieve the needed 32 votes for passage.

The hope at the time was that at least two Republicans — supporters had been eyeing Sens. Jack Martins and Phil Boyle of Long Island — as potential yes votes.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, the lead sponsor of the measure in the Assembly, went further, calling the ad “disgraceful.”

“The ad touts his opposition to several forward-thinking pieces of legislation, including the DREAM Act, as if it’s a good thing,” Moya said. “It’s not. Preventing New York’s children from going to college is nothing to be proud of. In fact, this ad makes plain what we suspected all along, that Republican opposition to the DREAM Act was based on political convenience, not principle. Opposing the DREAM Act just to score political points is shameful. When New York’s DREAMers are unable to go to college and are then forced to live lives of underpaid, under-the-table work, we’ll know who to thank, Senator Mark Grisanti.”

Latino lawmakers have vowed to push for the bill in the post-budget legislative session after it was not included in the 2014-15 state budget.

Med-Mar Supporters Undaunted

While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday cast doubt on whether a bill to legalize medical marijuana would be approved by the Senate this year, advocates for the measure were in Albany and undaunted by the skepticism.

“There’s definitely a lot of momentum,” said Holly Anderson, the executive director for the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, who met with Assembly Health Chairman Richard Gottfried. “This is as far as it’s ever been before.”

Anderson was one of about a dozen advocates who lobbied lawmakers on Tuesday for the measure, known as the Compassionate Care Act.

“I think people are really paying attention and putting their preconceived notions aside and really reading what we bring to them,” she said.

Senate Republicans — primarily from western New York — have announced their support for the measure as well, seen as a breakthrough for advocates.

“We still have some folks on the fence, we still have some reluctant senators, but we’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’ve got nine weeks to push this through.”

Despite that momentum, Silver seemed to slam on the brakes Monday when said the bill doesn’t seem to have “a future in this session.”

His office quickly clarified, noting that the bill had the support of the Assembly and would easily pass should the Senate approve it.

“To date the Senate has not acted on the legislation,” Silver’s office said in a statement. “Should the Senate decide to take up the bill, we would be delighted to pass it once again. I hope this is the year New York finally has a medical marijuana law.”

Gottfried, the bill’s prime sponsor in the chamber, wasn’t all that concerned about Silver’s take on the bill’s chances of passing.

“I think what Speaker Silver is that the Senate hasn’t taken it up so far but if and when they do it will pass both houses and go to the governor,” he said in an interview.

The measure was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution, which estimated annual revenue of about $66 million from the program.

It remains how many votes are available for the bill in the Senate, where Sen. Diane Savino says she has as many as 41 in favor, even as some Republicans suggest changes that would prohibit smoking medical marijuana.

“I think it’s look very good in the state Senate,” Gottfried said. “Senator Savino says I think she has over 40 votes which is a lot more than a majority.”

Savino on Monday made a parliamentary maneuver that would compel the Health Committee in the Senate to hold a vote on the measure.

The other uncertain variable is what Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to do.

He supports a more limited medical marijuana plan through an existing law and has not said whether he would sign the Compassionate Care Act if it goes to his desk.

Silver Hopes For ‘A More Realistic’ Public Financing Program

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday defended the agreement in the $138 billion state budget that creates a public financing system only for the state comptroller’s race, but added he hopes a broader public-matching program will eventually be approved.

“Hopefully we’ll early on get either the complete thing done for the next campaign cycle or at least a more realistic experiment for the next campaign cycle,” Silver told reporters.

Silver noted that DiNapoli, a Democrat and supporter of public financing, had initially proposed a public financing program for his campaign as a sort of pilot program.

But the budget’s program would make the public financing system take effect this election cycle as DiNapoli gears up to run for another four-year term.

DiNapoli plans to not opt in to the program.

DiNapoli, of course, is a product of the state Assembly, having represented a Long Island district before his colleagues elected him to fill the unexpired term of Alan Hevesi, who resigned in 2005 before officially taking office for a second term.

The inclusion of the public financing program for the comptroller’s race has also inflamed good-government groups as well as advocates for the program who wanted a statewide system.

Silver with reporters noted Senate Republicans had initially opposed any form of public financing. The Democratic-led Assembly has approved a statewide public financing system multiple times.

“That’s a crack in that armor in that they agreed to this and hopefully as we go down the road, they’ll agree to the complete system,” he said.

The program has again stoked talk in political circles of the cold relationship between Cuomo and DiNapoli.

But given the comptroller’s roots in the Assembly, the move was also surprising. Silver said he understood why DiNapoli is choosing not to participate in the program.

“This is not much of a change to it, but I can understand that it came late in the process,” he said. “The re-election campaigns were already underway and that’s always been an option we’ve given in any kind of public financing system. He’s electing that option, he’s still my friend, I still intend to vote for him.”

Silver: Med-Mar Has No ‘Future’ This Session

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday was skeptical on the prospects of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the post-budget legislative session.

“I don’t think it has a future in this session,” Silver told reporters on the floor of the Assembly chamber.

The statement is something of a surprise, given the perceived momentum for the bill, especially in the state Senate.

Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island lawmaker and member of the Independent Democratic Conference, said on Capital Tonight last month that there were 41 votes in favor of the legislation.

But Silver cast doubt on the prospects of the measure being approved in the Senate, where upstate Republicans — primarily from western New York — have announced their support for the legislation.

“There was no interest from the other parties,” Silver said of the Senate.

Despite the confidence from advocates on the Senate legislation, Silver noted, “They didn’t put it out.”

The Democratic-led Assembly, where the measure is sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, included the medical marijuana program in its one-house budget resolution.

The Assembly estimates medical marijuana would bring in $66 million a year with a 10 percent tax. Local governments would receive 15 percent of the revenue.

Passage of the bill in the Assembly as a stand-alone piece of legislation would not be in doubt; the chamber has approved the legislation in the past.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not said what he would do if the medical marijuana legislation, known as the Compassionate Care Act, arrived on his desk.

Cuomo announced late last year he would create his own and more limited medical marijuana program through an executive order using an existing law.

Barron Files For Assembly Run

Former New York City Councilman Charles Barron this week filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to run for the state Assembly seat vacated by his wife, Inez, records show.

The move for Charles Barron is not unexpected.

Barron, left the Council due to term limits, and had been telegraphing for months he would run for the Brooklyn-based district.

The former Black Panther has something of a knack for getting under the skin of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Barron in 2010 ran for governor on the Freedom Party ballot line, receiving 24,571 votes.

The following winter, he would later interrupt Cuomo when delivering a speech at caucus weekend in Albany.

He ran for Congress in 2012, but lost in a primary to Hakeem Jeffries.

Expect Barron, should he win the Assembly seat, to be a vocal and recognizable figure in the chamber.

Moya: Don’t ‘Conflate’ Dream Act With Education Tax Credit

Queens Democratic Assemblyman Francisco Moya warned against linking the Dream Act to a proposal that would provide a tax credit for donations to public and private schools.

Moya, in a statement Thursday morning, supports both measures (He is the main sponsor of the Dream Act in the Assembly, which provides tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants).

But he said expanding the tax credit proposal to include scholarship funding for the Dream Act is not a “workable solution.”

This compromise is close to a “Dream Fund” — a proposal that is favored by Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a GOP candidate for governor.

“The DREAM Act must have a reliable funding stream,” Moya said. “Without that, most college-bound DREAMers will be left out in the cold. The futures of our state’s DREAMers are too important to be reliant upon the whims of donors.”

The statewide Dream Act Coalition also called this potential agreement a non-starter.

“While everyone can agree that compromise is an important part of the negotiations process, those compromises should not come at the expense of the hard working students who are desperately counting on Albany to do the right thing,” the coalition said.

Cardinal Dolan on Wednesday in a statement spelled out the potential agreement, saying the expanded tax credit program had his support.

Scarborough Tops In Travel Expenses

Democratic Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough, whose offices in Albany and Queens were raided he says over questions stemming from his travel expenses, received $32,492 in voucher reimbursements over a 12-month period.

Ranked fourth on the list was now former Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who was automatically kicked out of the chamber when he was convicted on corruption charges this month.

Here is the full list, which covers the reporting period of April 2012 through March 2013, via The Empire Center for Public Policy.

Assembly Member Travel – 1 Year by Nick Reisman

Scarborough Insists He’s Innocent Of Voucher Abuse

Assemblyman William Scarborough insisted he had not abused the Assembly’s system for travel per diems and that the raid from federal agents stemmed from a misunderstanding from a tabloid “hit job.”

“I believe I have acted in accordance of the law,” Scarborough said. “We’ll see. They didn’t give me very much. I can only go based on what I was told. I don’t think this is warranted.”

Scarborough’s office in Albany, as well as his home and motel room, were raided by FBI agents on Wednesday. He said law enforcement officials first contacted him this morning at 5:45 to raid his Howard Johnson motel room in Albany.

First elected in 1995, the Democrat represents the Jamaica section of Queens.

Agents were seen taking boxes with yellow “evidence” tape from his office.

Scarborough told reporters the investigation was over his use of per diems — travel voucher reimbursements for which he has received tens of thousands of dollars from over the last several years.

“I believe they represent a misunderstanding of the Assembly voucher system or misrepresentation of what I did,” he said.

He said the initial story from The New York Post was incorrect in its claims he had taken travel reimbursement funds without being in Albany.

“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong,” Scarborough said. “I believe this was based on what was an inaccurate report of about a year and half ago from a New York City tabloid.”

The lawmaker was not arrested, but indicated a possible indictment could come.

“What I was told was there might be indictments and I would not be one of them,” he said. “When I spoke with people here they seemed to have kind of tempered that statement.”

Scarborough said he was first issue subpoenas on the travel voucher some time ago, but “I did not think anything would come of it.”

“The reality is I don’t know of any corruption because if anything comes my way I try to get out of it,” he said.

The raid comes amid budget negotiations in Albany and as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders are discussing potential ethics reform legislation.

Lawmakers have said this week they expect a deal that could include a tightening of anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws, but Republicans in the Senate remain opposed to publicly financed political campaigns.

Albany has been wracked by multiple corruption scandals over the last several years, with three high-profile cases alone in 2013 resulting in the arrests of Sens. John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.

Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat, was jettisoned from the Assembly this year after he was found guilty of accepting bribes.

Cuomo last year created a Moreland Commission to probe legislative wrongdoing; Lawmakers say the panel does not have the power to subpoena their outside income and business interests.

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FBI Raids Queens Lawmaker’s Office

Boxes marked “evidence” were spotted leaving the Albany office of Queens Democratic Assemblyman Bill Scarborough on Wednesday after multiple sources said they had seen what appeared to be the FBI in the Legislative Office Building.

The boxes, sealed with yellow tape marked “evidence” were carried by multiple men out of Scarborough’s office.

A woman who answered the phone in Scarborough’s office referred Capital Tonight to the Assembly’s press office, which is yet to return calls seeking comment.

An aide who answered the door at Scarborough’s office said the lawmaker had not been arrested

Scarborough, first elected in 1995, represents the Jamaica section of Queens.

Update: Scarborough emerged from his office tell reporters that federal agents had indeed searched his office.

He told reporters he had done everything “in accordance with the law” and indicated they were looking into his use of per diems.