Assembly

Heastie: Outrageous To Say Dems Won’t Address Upstate Needs

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a radio interview Tuesday pushed back against claims Democrats next year won’t address the needs of upstate New York.

“It is the most outrageous thing I think I’ve heard,” Heastie said in an interview with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I’ve toured this state, particularly upstate New York, every year that I’ve been the leader.”

Democrats will control both chambers of the Legislature next year for the first time in a decade. Heastie is from the Bronx and incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is from Yonkers in Westchester County.

“Have no fear,” Heastie said, “we respect every single part of this state.”

He pointed to broad needs for New York as addressing concerns faced statewide including “good jobs, education, health care and great transportation.”

“All of those things will be looked at,” Heastie said. “Yes, a lot of things have to be done with the MTA, but we know there are transportation needs throughout the state.”

Heastie Says He’s ‘A Little Frustrated’ By Pay Debate

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a radio interview on Tuesday said he was frustrated by the terms of the debate over whether state lawmakers should receive their first legislative pay raise in 20 years.

A commission, led by current and former state and city comptrollers, will decide this month whether lawmakers will receive a boost in their base $79,500 salary.

But Heastie has bristled at the push to link any pay hike to reforms, such as a ban or limit on outside income for the Legislature.

“The mission of the commission was to really look at what is the right pay for legislators and not how to reform the operations of the house,” Heastie said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Still, Heastie has expressed a willingness to consider the reform of an outside income change as the commission itself has expressed sympathy with the 20-year pay raise drought.

The commission is also considering pay raises for members of the governor’s cabinet. Heastie said some editorials written in opposition to the pay hike without reform have contained “venom” directed unfairly at the Legislature.

“Everyone is only asking for reforms on the Legislature,” he said. “If you’re asking for reforms in exchange for compensation, you can do that for anyone who is captured under this law. But I get it, the Legislature is always the dog you kick.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said in multiple interviews in recent weeks that a legislative pay hike should also come with reforms, such as an outside income ban.

The public perception of a legislative pay raise may difficult to combat, given the corruption scandals that have engulfed state government in recent years.

Lawmakers have approved multiple ethics reform packages in recent years.

“I don’t know if any legislative reform is going to fix peoples’ mortality,” Heastie said Tuesday in the interview. “People know when they’re doing the wrong thing. But we’ll continue to give the voters of this state the confidence that their legislators are operating openly and ethically.”

Simotas Urges Approval For Sexual Assault Survivor Bill Of Rights

Assemblywoman Aravvella Simotas in a statement on Monday urged the approval of the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights after Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office last week announced a settlement against hospital that had improperly billed rape victims for forensic examinations.

“I am shocked and horrified by the illegal practice of billing rape survivors for forensic rape examinations, that Attorney General Barbara Underwood exposed last week,” Simotas said.

“One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that a new law might have prevented this travesty but it has been waiting for the governor’s signature for six months, after passing the Assembly and the Senate in June 2018. Until the governor signs it, the law will not take effect.”

The bill is meant to bolster the rights of survivors, including updates on the status of their rape kit and whether a DNA profile was developed and a match identified. It would also provide contact information for the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction of the crime.

And the bill would give the survivor the right to consultation with a representative from a rape crisis or victim assistance organization before a physical examination or law enforcement interview. The representative could also accompany the survivor through the examination and interview.

“No rape survivor should be re-traumatized by bureaucracy, ill-treatment, thoughtlessness or lack of transparency in the health care or criminal justice systems,” Simotas said.

“In 2016 the governor signed legislation that I sponsored to mandate the speedy processing of rape kits and end the backlog. I urge the governor to now sign the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights so that our state continues to protect and advance the rights of sexual assault survivors.

Heastie: Legislators Face Middle-Class Squeeze

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie sought to make the case on Friday for a legislative pay raise, pointing to the middle-class financial pressures state lawmakers face — including caring for children and older loved ones as well as student loans and mortgages.

“Legislators are not insulated from the financial pressures that face their constituents,” he said, noting the majority of the state’s 213 lawmakers live in and around the New York City. “These are areas with a high cost of living, some of which have the highest cost of living in the nation.”

At the same time, Heastie told the four-man panel determining whether lawmakers could receive their first salary increase in 20 years that he is open to proposals for a ban or limits to outside income for individual lawmakers, such as earning a salary at a law firm.

But Heastie said he would not want to commit to supporting a measure linked to a raise in pay.

“We understand what people are saying,” Heastie said. “We’ve shown that we have an appetite for listening, but it’s difficult — I’m going to be very consistent — to agree to a specific piece of legislation in exchange for compensation is not something I’m willing to do.”

State lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500 and many earn more with legislative stipends. The last legislative pay raise in 1999 was paired with a boost in charter schools in New York.

Now, a pay raise composed of former and current state and New York City comptrollers will determine whether lawmakers will receive the boost in pay.

“I believe the relevant task of the commission is what is the fair amount of compensation and that’s for the four of you to decide,” Heastie told the panel. “I think the Legislature would take your recommendations seriously, but I can’t at this point say what I’d be willing to do, because that would totally inappropriate for me to do that.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview earlier on Friday indirectly suggested the pay commission’s final report, due next month, would potentially tie the raise to a reform in how lawmakers can earn money outside of public office.

In the interview, WAMC’s expressed admiration for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who sits on the panel.

Cuomo responded, “You just said you love Tom DiNapoli. He’s going to say, ‘you have to agree to ban outside income or you don’t get a raise.'”

Cuomo added, “He has to say it if you love him. He can’t say I’ll give you a raise and you won’t have to do anything.”

DiNapoli in Albany on Wednesday said it was not clear if the commission in its report could link the raise to an outside income ban.

“It’s my point of view that that’s an appropriate reform,” DiNapoli said. “The extent this committee has the ability to impose something like that is open to question, but it’s certainly a reform that should have been done a long time ago.”

Kolb Re-Elected Republican Leader

Brian Kolb was re-elected the leader of the Assembly Republicans on Tuesday and is set to continue his post as the minority leader in the chamber when the Legislature convenes in January for the 2019 legislative session.

Kolb has led the Assembly GOP conference since 2009.

“Our voice is always going to be what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer,” Kolb said in an interview about the unanimous vote.

He pointed to challenges ranging from mass transit, infrastructure and special education.

But Republicans are also firmly in the wilderness in state government, with Republicans in the state Senate losing their majority and joining Assembly Republicans out of power.

Assembly Republicans for the last several decades have staked out a loyal opposition role in the chamber in which they are vastly outnumbered.

“We’re going to be the voice of reason for the taxpayer,” Kolb said. “You can’t over tax, you can’t overspend.”

Peoples-Stokes Plans To Meet With Heastie Prior To Assembly Reorganization Meeting

From the Morning Memo:

There’s a job opening in the state Assembly and veteran Democrat Crystal Peoples-Stokes appears to be an obvious candidate.

The assembly woman potentially could take over the majority leader seat vacated by now-Congressman Joe Morelle. However, Peoples-Stokes is taking a diplomatic approach rather than overtly campaigning for the role.

“It’s important to me to support the leadership of the speaker,” she said. “I think he’s done a fabulous job and whoever he decides to be the majority leader, I will support that decision.”

Asked who she thinks her competition is, Peoples-Stokes said it could be any member of the Assembly. She did admit her resume fits the mold.

“I do know from a historical perspective that it generally tends to be somebody Upstate and it generally tends to be someone who has significant seniority, both of which I fit,” she said.

Ultimately the decision does come down to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie who Peoples-Stokes has worked closely with over the years. She said she has not had any extended conversations with him yet.

“I did receive a text from him that we would talk in a meeting prior to our reorganization meeting in our December,” she said.

Peoples-Stokes district includes a large portion of the city of Buffalo and she has been in the Assembly since 2003.

Assembly Democrats Lay Out Their Agenda

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday laid out an agenda for the coming 2019 legislative session — an agenda that can pass with more pieces in tact due to the coming Democratic majority in the state Senate, ranging from strengthening abortion laws, gun control and rent control in New York.

The push includes bolstering and expanding pre-Kindergarten and after school programs in the state. Heastie pointed to one his longtime priorities, My Brothers Keeper, as well.

At the same time, Heastie said he wants to pass measures that are designed to make it easier to vote, including early voting, no excuse absentee voting and consolidation of the state and federal primaries.

And the Assembly Democrats will back closing the loophole in state election law that allows unlimited donations through a web limited liability companies.

Heastie also listed upgrading mass transit in New York City, gun control, criminal justice reform and making it easier for the victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

Many of these measures have already been approved, in some form, by the Assembly. The difference for Assembly Democrats this year is a Democratic majority on the other side of the Capitol as well in the state Senate.

“During my nearly four years as Speaker of the State Assembly, I have had the opportunity to travel across the state, and I can confidently say that there is more that unites us than divides us,” Heastie said. “With that in mind as we look ahead to the rapidly approaching 2019 session, I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and new Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to craft an action agenda that puts New York’s families first.”

Rochester Lobbyist Arrested In Connection With Bribery Scheme

Federal prosecutors have charged a second person in connection with a bribery scheme that originated in Monroe County.

Lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy was arrested Thursday for allegedly willfully aiding and abetting bribes to state Assembly Member Joe Errigo, in order to influence him to introduce legislation aimed at obstructing a pending development project. Law enforcement arrested Errigo in connection with the same scheme last month.

According to the complaint, an individual working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conspired with Gaddy and Errigo and paid the two men a total of $10,500 over the course of several months. The lobbyist was originally approached about coordinating with another legislator, identified as “Member A,” but Gaddy suggested Errigo introduce the bill.

“The people of Western New York, like all our citizens, deserve to have representatives who act in the public’s interest, not for their own personal financial gain,” U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy said. “Where, as alleged here, legislative acts are undertaken not on their merits but in exchange for the payment of bribes and in hopes of personal financial gain, then all involved in the corruption of our legislative process ought to expect to face criminal charges.”

The FBI said it did not allow the proposed legislation or any other official acts to advance beyond preliminary stages. The legislation in question was assigned bill number A10227.

The official charges are: Bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and honest services wire fraud. Gaddy made his initial appearance Thursday and is due back in court in December for a status conference.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Abinanti Backs Limo Safety Bill

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti has introduced an Assembly version of the Stretch Limousine Safety Act in his chamber, a bill announced earlier this week by Sen. Simcha Felder.

The measure was introduced following the deaths of 17 passengers, a driver and two pedestrians after a stretch limo in Schoharie crashed.

“We need a more comprehensive approach to the inspection and licensure of ‘stretch limos’ to protect all New Yorkers,” said Abinanti, a Westchester County lawmaker.

“New Yorkers hire these limos to transport them safely to and from proms, weddings, and other special events. They count on the State to make sure that the vehicles and the drivers are safe.”

The bill includes a retirement age for stretch limos, new training requirements for drivers as well as inspection and insurance regulations that would make it harder for a vehicle to get back on the road should it fail to pass.

The limo involved in the crash, officials have said, failed inspection a month earlier.

Molinaro’s Per Diem Spending Under Scrutiny

From the Morning Memo:

As a member of the state Assembly, Republican Marc Molinaro in one year claimed $17,617 in expenses while traveling to Albany and back.

The per diem spending — used by lawmakers for meals and travel costs– would today place Molinaro second among the 213 members of the state Legislature.

His successor in the Assembly, Democratic Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, does not claim per diems.

Likewise, lawmakers from the Hudson Valley like Molinaro who travel even further from the mid-Hudson Valley to get to the state Capitol don’t take travel per diems, including Republicans Sue Serino in the state Senate and Kieran Labor in the Assembly. The late Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados also did not accept per diems.

Molinaro’s only contemporary in the Assembly was Skartados, who died earlier this year.

Molinaro’s per diem spending jumped in 2009-10. He spent only $2,000 or so during his first year in office, 2007. His increased per diem spending was partially a reflection of Molinaro’s rapid rise in the Assembly GOP ranks. At the time he departed the chamber to become the Duchess County executive, he had become assistant minority leader, a member of the Way and Means Committee and sat on several task forces, posts that required him to travel around the state.

Molinaro this year is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a third term.

“Sadly, this is just another attempt by Andrew Cuomo to cover up his disastrous record of making New York the highest taxed and most corrupt state in America,” said Molinaro spokeswoman Katy Delgado.

“But while we’re on the subject, maybe Andrew Cuomo should come clean about how much money taxpayer’s have spent for his travel on Air Cuomo and how much money has been stolen by his corrupt administration’s campaigning out of state offices. How quickly we forget, soon to be inmate, Joe Percoco’s 837 phone calls out of a government office while he was employed by the campaign.”

But one Democratic insider said Molinaro’s to call for fiscal discipline doesn’t square when he also took in per diems.

“Molinaro is all talk when it comes to protecting taxpayer dollars but in reality he’s raiding the collection bin. Just like giving tax breaks to county contractors that employ his family, Molinaro would rather line his pockets with New Yorkers hard-earned dollars than rein in government spending.”