New Law Tightens Ignition Interlock Device Requirements

Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend approved a bill that is aimed at tightening requirements for those who are repeat DWI offenders and have installed ignition interlock devices on their cars.

The bill was approved after an audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that of the more than 53,000 devices installed under court order in New York City, the compliance rate was only 25 percent.

The new law allows the courts to extend the sentence of the mandated use of the devices for a DWI offender should it be discovered they have violated the terms of probation or conditional discharged.

The bill was backed in the Assembly by Democrat David Buchwald and by Republican Sen. Michael Nozzolio.

“Leandra Rosado’s story reminds us that life is precious, and in her memory New York State has taken steps to reduce the tragic loss of life due to drunk driving,” Buchwald said, referring to the inspiration for the initial ignition interlock law. “Ignition interlock devices save lives, and by granting our courts the ability to extend the period of mandated time these devices are required for repeat offenders, we will increase the chance of preventing further tragedies like Leandra’s from happening in the future. I am thankful that Governor Cuomo signed into law this initiative to reduce drunken driving and keep repeat offenders off the roadways. I wish all New Yorkers a happy and safe holiday season.”

Amid Staten Island Clash, Rubio Backs Zadroga Reauthorization

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday released a statement in support of reauthorizing the Zadroga Act — an announcement that comes amid a parochial war of words for one of his top New York supporters, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

“Programs designed to meet the unique health needs of those Americans should be renewed, and those who rely on them should not face uncertainty and continued anxiety over their future,” Rubio said in a statement. “To help achieve these goals, today I co-sponsored S. 928, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.”

Staten Island Democratic Assemblyman Matt Titone had initially called on Malliotakis to leverage her clout with Rubio after she was named the chair of the Florida Republican’s campaign in New York to have him take a stand in favor of reauthorizing the measure aimed at helping first responders.

“With the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks recently past, it is more important than ever that we ensure victims and those affected by this tragedy are compensated and care for going into the future,” Titone wrote in a statement last week.

Malliotakis had shot back, saying Titone was essentially trying to “politicize” the issue of helping 9/11 first responders.

Malliotakis this morning tweeted the statement from Rubio backing Zadroga reauthorization.

“Congress must keep faith with the heroes and victims of 9/11, while also making sure our federal government is living within its means and protecting taxpayers,” Rubio said. “As we continue working on this issue, I hope we can improve this legislation or reach an agreement that meets both these goals.”

Assembly May Seek To Tie Fantasy Sports To OTB Parlors, Casinos

State lawmakers may seek to tie fantasy sports to casinos or even OTB parlors, Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow told reporters on Tuesday at the Capitol.

Sports betting was included as a provision as part of the larger constitutional amendment that legalized commercial casinos in New York. Such activities could take place within a casino or OTB parlors, the latter of which have been financially struggling in some parts of the state.

“If it was in fact sports betting then it can be done in a brick and mortar casino, not necessarily on the outside,” Pretlow said. “I’m also looking at getting our OTBs involved. There are in fact OTB parlors in need of help.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is seeking to block the two most popular daily fantasy websites — DraftKings and FanDuel — from operating in New York. Both companies are fighting the legal challenge, but FanDuel on Tuesday announced it would bar New York users from making deposits.

Pretlow, a Mount Vernon Democrat, said it would likely be a matter of passing legislation — not a constitutional amendment — to regulate fantasy sports activities. His committee is planing a Dec. 8 hearing on the issue, which will include the website Yahoo, which maintains a popular fantasy sports feature.

“People have found a loophole in gambling and it’s called fantasy,” Pretlow said. “We’d like to take a closer look and see what regulations, if any, are needed.”

Asked if he had ever used a daily fantasy sports website before, Pretlow said he only heard about the sites three weeks ago.

“I think they’re gambling,” he said. “If it’s not gambling, it has all of the appearances of gambling and at the least I believe there should be some state regulation as to how they operate and how the entire program is being run.”

Gottfried: Expedited Program Gives DOH ‘Flexibility’

Medical MarijuanaFrom the Morning Memo:

The measure approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hasten access to medical marijuana will provide “flexibility” to the state Department of Health should the program not be ready by January, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried said in an interview.

At the same time, Gottfried said there are real concerns about the possibility of the main program not being ready for its January start date.

“I think the department is doing everything within their existing power, but some of the registered organizations are having difficulty getting their dispensaries located with local zoning and the like,” Gottfried said. “I hear there are other registered organizations that have had some rough spots in getting their organization going.”

Still, state officials insisted on Wednesday the program remains on scheduled, despite grumblings from advocates who have closely watched the roll out.

“I can tell you all the registered organizations are growing plants and the medical Marijuana program is still on track to begin as planned (in) January,” said Department of Health spokesman Jim Plastiras

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and primary sponsor of the expedited medical marijuana bills that Cuomo approved, said the measure could ultimately aid state officials should the main program not be in place. More >

Legislature To Meet 57 Days In 2016

The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly is scheduled to meet 57 days in 2016, according to the newly released legislative calendar.

The calendar shows two four-day day weeks in March during the height of the budget season, with the spending plan due March 31.

The first day of session, as per the law, is Jan. 6, which is also the day of the State of the State address by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The final day is scheduled for June 16.

Lawmakers have a two-week break in April before returning May 3.

Legislative Calendar by Nick Reisman

Seddio Remembers Lopez’s ‘Legacy’ (Updated)

Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez is being remembered today as a man who died under a cloud, a once powerful lawmaker who ruled the Brooklyn Democratic Party with an iron fist and chaired the influential Assembly Housing Committee, only to see his career come crashing down amid a sexual harassment scandal.

So firm was Lopez’s hold on his Democrat-dominated borough that elected officials and would-be elected officials alike would routinely make the pilgrimage to the taxpayer-funded Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Center picnic he threw every year, and those with the power to do so approved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of NYC and state member items that the assemblyman used to build his senior services empire.

Usually, the death of a political figure of the stature Lopez once enjoyed sparks an avalanche of statements from fellow pols, all expressing condolences to the family and singing the praises of the deceased. In this case, however, only former Assemblyman Frank Seddio, who took the reins of Brooklyn’s Democratic operation after Lopez fell from grace, has chosen to formally state his feelings regarding the disgraced late assemblyman.

Seddio said he had been friends with Lopez for over 30 years and was “saddened” by his death.

“His legacy is the work he did for the poorest residents of Bushwick and Ridgewood, where thousands of people live in affordable housing on lots that were once burned out and garbage-filled,” the chairman continued. “He was the foremost champion of affordable housing before it became the cause that it is today.”

“As he faces the judgment on the value of his life, my hope is that all the good work that he did will outweigh the unfortunate way in which his career ended.”

UPDATE: Statement No. 2 just landed in my inbox, it’s from Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, another Brooklyn Democrat:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Vito Lopez after a long, brave battle with cancer. What he accomplished for communities long underserved and overlooked should not be soon forgotten. He forever changed the face of the neighborhoods he represented and I am proud to have partnered with him on his vision. I will truly miss his friendship and my thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones today.”

Vito Lopez Dies At 74

Vito Lopez, a once powerful and feared state lawmaker from Brooklyn who wielded power as the county Democratic chairman only to be felled by a sexual harassment scandal, has died, his attorney said in a statement.

Lopez was 74.

Lopez, who had been diagnosed with cancer for several years, died on Monday night, said his attorney, Gerald Lefcourt.

“Vito was a trained social worker and he never forgot his roots. His accomplishments on behalf of working class people, in particular seniors, in Brooklyn and Queens are many,” Lefcourt said in the statement. “Most notable are the creation of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a non-profit organization that provides a myriad of services to senior citizens in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Ridgewood, Queens, and surrounding neighborhoods and a bill that provided protection to loft tenants by giving rights to illegal tenants and making their lofts subject to rent stabilization. He will be missed.”

He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1985 and ran the Brooklyn Democratic committee for seven years. During his time in office, Lopez wielded nearly unquestioned power as the Assembly’s Housing Committee chairman.

Lopez resigned in 2013 in the wake of a Joint Commission on Public Ethics report that found he had routinely sexually harassed staffers who worked in his office and had violated the public officer’s law. He was fined $350,000 and later quit the Assembly ahead of expulsion proceedings.

Lopez’s initial settlement with women who had accused him of harassment and abuse included a $100,000 payment of state funds that had been secretly approved by then-Assembly Sheldon Silver, who later apologized for keeping the settlement money confidential.

The Lopez scandal led to an overhaul in how the Assembly responds to sexual harassement complaints.

O’Donnell Shares U.S. Strategy On Same-Sex Marriage In Northern Ireland

From the Morning Memo:

As the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, Democratic Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell is commending the move that came after officials there studied the American effort to legalize same-sex marriage.

“By advancing legislation to allow marriage equality, Northern Ireland can affirm its commitment to protecting the rights of minorities,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “This is a momentous opportunity for the nation to ensure that the civil rights and the religious liberties of every person in Northern Ireland are upheld, and to show the international community that they will come in line with the United Kingdom.”

It is the fifth attempt to legalize same-sex marriage before the Stormont Assembly of North Ireland, and opponents there are using a maneuver known a “petition of concern” to block passage, initially intended to be used to protect minority sentiment. Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland has 68 percent of support, according to one poll.

O’Donnell, the first openly gay man to serve in the Assembly, was a key lawmaker in the lead up to the approval of same-sex marriage in 2011. More >

Heastie Appoints New Assembly Counsels

Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite on Wendesday named Kathleen O’Keefe the legislative counsel to the speaker and Howard Vargas executive counsel, his office said.

“These are critical appointments as we head into the 2016 legislative session, and both Kathleen O’Keefe and Howard Vargas will help provide me and my Assembly colleagues with important advice,” said Speaker Heastie. “Ms. O’Keefe and Mr. Vargas have repeatedly proven their talent, commitment and principled leadership and I look forward to working with them as we continue the fight to do what’s right for New York’s hardworking families.”

O’Keefe, a graduate of Rutgers University, had previously served as a co-counsel at the state Board of Elections and has worked for the Assembly previously as a counsel to the Election Law Committee and associate counsel at the Codes.

Vargas, an Albany Law School graduate, has previously worked as assistant counsel to Heastie, having worked in real-estate and workers compensation issues, among other areas. He previously worked as a commissioner to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and general counsel for state affairs to the New York City Council.

And he has ties to Heastie’s home county: Vargas was executive director of the Bronx Democratic Committee and a law clerk for the Civil Court of the City of New York in Bronx County. Heastie is a former chairman of the Bronx Democratic committee.

McLaughlin Calls For Probe Into Mets Tickets

Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin on Monday called for an investigation into the purchasing of World Series tickets by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

The tickets to the scrapped fundraiser were expected to be sold for $5,500 donations to Cuomo’s 2018 campaign.

Cuomo had planned to hold fundraisers at two World Series games at Citi Field in Queens, but ultimately cancelled them last week after fans and good-government groups protested.

The practice of holding political fundraisers for major sporting or entertainment events isn’t out of the ordinary or illegal.

Democratic Rep. Grace Meng held a fundraiser at Game 3 of the series, while Cuomo has held events at Yankee Stadium, as well as sold tickets for a special showing of the musical “Hamilton.”

But McLaughlin, a GOP lawmaker from Rensselaer County, says more information is needed on the circumstances surrounding the purchasing of the tickets by Cuomo’s campaign.

“The governor has refused to disclose many details about the deal, but I believe the public has a right to know exactly how many tickets were purchased, at what price and how exactly he obtained them,” he wrote to Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott. “As you may be aware, Mets fans are subject to a lottery in order to obtain World Series tickets due to their scarcity and demand, and the news of a wealthy politician cutting corners is disconcerting and frustrating to many Mets fans and constituents alike. It is also my understanding that the New York Mets owners have had business before the state, and Governor Cuomo’s deal may potentially represent a conflict of interest in that regard.”

The Mets ultimately lost the series, 4-1, to the Kansas City Royals.

Letter to IG(Ed) FINAL by Nick Reisman