Senate’s MMA Sponsor Open To Changes

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo, one of the main sponsors of a bill aimed at legalizing mixed-martial arts in the state, is open to making changes to the measure should it lead to its passage this year.

“In order to get something done this year, I’m open and willing to have those discussions and consider what’s being proposed,” Griffo said in an interview. “At this point in time I haven’t seen anything specifically.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle is discussing potential amendments to the bill, such as adding a health-insurance provision for those who participate in MMA bouts.

Those potential changes were reported by The Daily News on Monday.

On Wednesday, Morelle said he continued to work to line up the votes in his chamber.

“We’re looking to see if we can find some amendments which would be appealing to the number of members who are concerned about the health and welfare of our participants,” Morelle said.

Assembly Democrats have previously discussed the bill in a closed-door conference this year, but emerged without a consensus on whether the bill comes to the floor for a vote.

Supporters have maintained that should the bill be voted on by the full chamber, it would likely pass.

“I think if a vote is allowed, it will pass,” Griffo said.

But concerns remain from MMA opponents who cite the sport’s violence. There is also labor opposition from the Las Vegas-based culinary union, which is in a dispute with Ultimate Fighting Championship, a top MMA promoter which is lobbying on behalf of the bill.

Still, Griffo added the UFC and other MMA event backers in the industry should be consulted before moving forward with changes.

“We treat our sports very similarly here and to do something different than what we already do in boxing and professional wrestling, I’d have to see what is being done and why,” he said.

Property Tax Cap Extension Debate Continues

From the Morning Memo:

The state’s cap on property tax increases doesn’t expire until next year, but some lawmakers at the Capitol are already looking to make the measure first passed in 2011 a permanent one.

“Making the property tax permanent is in the best interests of the taxpayers and the people of the state of New York.

The state Senate on Wednesday voted for a bill that would create a permanent extension of the cap, which limits local levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

It’s a key provision this year, especially for upstate and suburban Republican lawmakers.

“Keeping property taxes down has been a priority for me in the Senate and something I’ll continue to advocate for,” said Sen. Patty Ritchie, a North County Republican.

The drive to make the tax cap permanent, through a straight extension, is also backed by statewide and regional business groups, who argue it will bring a new level of certainty to businesses that want to settle in New York.

But it’s a different case in the Assembly, led by Democrats, who question the need to make the cap a permanent fixture.

“I’m actually a big fan of sun setting more legislation than not simply because as circumstances change it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and amendments as time goes on,” Majority Leader Joe Morelle said.

And Democrats in the chamber are suggesting that some changes could be made and school aid should be boosted as well to help districts budget within the cap.

“I think that the cap has been an effective tool, but we need to make sure we do the rest of here at the state, make sure that critical state aid is going to our schools, make sure they’re properly funded,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a Schenectady Democrat.

There is a growing drive from local government advocates as well to make some changes to the cap that could be coupled with mandate relief or even a boost in state aid.

For now, lawmakers have said the discussions do not center around linking the cap’s renewal to mandate relief provisions.

The vast majority of school districts this week had their budgets approved by voters and nearly 99 percent all budgeted within the legal limit. An override is possible, but only with a 60 percent majority.

While the cap doesn’t expire this year, it is linked to rent control regulations for New York City, which are due to lapse next month. Extending rent control is a top priority for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“The Senate has a list, we have a list and where we can come to an agreement on some of the things we want, that’s what usually happens,” Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs a permanent property tax cap, which as a signature economic achievement from his first term.

Morelle Backs Cap Extension, But With A Sunset

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle in an interview said he supports keeping the property tax cap largely as it is, but not making the measure permanent.

Giving legislation like the ceiling increase on local property taxes an expiration or “sunset” date in Albany parlance allows lawmakers to review it periodically.

“I’m actually a big fan of sunsetting more legislation than not simply because as circumstances change, it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and amendments as time goes on,” Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat, said.

The Republican-led Senate on Tuesday evening approved an indefinite extension of the cap, which was first signed into law in 2011 and has been imposed on local governments and school districts since 2012.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the property tax cap’s champion in 2011, also backs a permanent extension of the measure.

The tax cap is not due to expire until next year, but it is linked to the extension of rent control for New York City, which is due to end in June.

While the Senate re-approved the tax cap, the Democratic-led Assembly backed its own version of rent control extensions for the city that also strengthens the regulations.

Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, are more hesitant to back a permanent extension of the property tax cap and have called for some changes to the cap, as well as a renewed push for more state aid and relief from mandated state spending.

Morelle backs changes that he called “primarily technical in nature” but added the approval of the cap shouldn’t be linked to more mandate relief.

“I’m comfortable with it standing alone and I think it stands by itself and makes great sense,” he said.

EITC Remains A Question For Assembly

The passage of a bill meant to spur donations aimed at benefiting private and public schools remains problematic for the Democratic-led Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday told reporters.

“I still think the conference is where it is. It still has some members that support it,” Heastie said at a news conference this afternoon. “It’s an unwritten rule, but it’s a rule: This is a governmental body and majority rules. I’ve been very clear that if we don’t have a majority of Democrats to pass a bill, we’re not going to bring to the floor.”

Opposition continues in the Assembly even as supporters point to the dozens of lawmakers from both parties who have signed on in support of a version of the legislation, which would provide a tax credit to those who donate to public schools or to a scholarship program that benefits a private or parochial school.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this move has been promoting his latest version of the bill, which provides up to a $150 million in tax credits.

Cuomo has urged supporters of the measure to contact lawmakers, especially in the Assembly, directly. Meanwhile, tax credit backers released today a pair of TV ads supporting the legislation. NYSUT has its own radio ads airing for the next 10 days.

But Heastie indicated he won’t be be swayed by the public push.

“I don’t care what campaign goes on publicly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Assembly plans to move forward with a package of changes to the education policies approved in the state budget, which will be directed at altering deadlines for implementing new teacher evaluation criteria as well as reforms to the controversial Common Core education standards.

“We are probably going to be looking to advance that pretty soon,” Heastie said. “We kind of wanted to defer to the experts and take the right amount of time to implement the system.”

It will be unlikely that lawmakers can get Cuomo, who championed the reforms in the budget, to back the changes.

“The governor knows where we are and our concerns,” Heastie said.

Assembly Extends, Strengthen Rent Control Regulations

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday approved its version of extending rent control regulations for New York City and the surrounding area, though a broader deal with Republicans in the Senate still must be hashed out.

The Democratic version of the bill would extend rent control through June 15, 2019 and end the practice of vacancy decontrol of empty dwellings.

Other measures aimed at strengthening rent regulations were included as well that are unlikely to be backed by GOP lawmakers in the chamber.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged at a news conference the bill remains under negotiations with Senate Republicans.

“I think, for us, we’ll put together what we think is needed, what the city needs,” Heastie said at a news conference. “It’s difficult for me to speculate on just because it’s now John Flanagan whether they’re going to change who they are or change their negotiating. We’re just going to make our case why we should get the Senate to pass the bill.”

Rent control, along with an extension of the 421a tax abatement remain under discussion as the legislative session begins to wind down.

Questions remain over the tax abatement, as it played a role in the scandal surrounding former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who stepped down this month and was replaced last week by Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican.

At the same time, rent control is tied to the existence of a cap on property tax increases, which impacts suburban and upstate counties. Tax cap supporters want the measure extended indefinitely.

Heasite would not say whether he backed keeping the cap, due to expire next year, and the rent control entwined together.

“That’s something that’s on their list,” Heastie said of Senate Republicans, “and we’ll see what happens when we discuss this.”

Indeed, keeping the cap in place remains a key priority for Senate Republicans, many of whom represent districts outside of New York City.

One of the two Republican lawmakers who represent New York City, Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, stressed rent control remains under discussion (a third GOP conference member, Sen. Simcha Felder, is a Democrat aligned with the Republicans in the Senate).

“We’re still in negotiations,” Golden said. “I believe it’s going to take another few days before we’re in a place where we can discuss the bills.”

As for vacancy decontrol, Golden said it is doubtful that will change.

“Vacancy decontrol — I don’t see it being ended at all,” he said.

Assembly To Vote On Mayoral Control, With 2018 Sunset

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-led Assembly today will consider a bill that would extend mayoral control of New York City schools, with a three-year expiration date.

The 2018 sunset is one that’s preferred by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks a permanent extension of the measure first successfully sought by his Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent predecessor Michael Bloomberg.

But even as de Blasio and his Democratic allies in the Assembly sought longer extensions (the conference this year backed a five-year extension) the bill avoids making major changes to mayoral control.

Mayoral control is due to sunset in June after its last extension, in 2009.

It’s unclear if Senate Republicans will bite on this deal. Before Dean Skelos stepped down as majority leader, Republican lawmakers had suggested they would like to have a debate on the effectiveness of mayoral control, a prospect they did not push when Bloomberg was mayor.

Newly elected Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement on Sunday, without specifying, said “reforms” needed to be made to mayoral control.

“Reforms need to be made to the statute authorizing mayoral control of New York City schools to guarantee transparency and accountability, and to require that New York City provides enough local funding to underperforming schools,” he said.

Still, having the Assembly and Senate agree on a mayoral control bill early enough could clear a significant issue from Albany’s agenda as lawmakers also look ahead to expiring rent control regulations for New York City.

Cuomo is still pushing for an increase in the statewide cap on charter schools as well as an education investment tax credit bill that is opposed by Assembly Democrats.

Elsewhere, western New York Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan told The Buffalo News he was open to a mayoral control proposal as Democrats push an alternative plan.

Freshman Sen. Marc Panepinto is backing a measure that would provide Mayor Byron Brown with “mayoral input” over his city’s school system. He said in a Capital Tonight last month the Cuomo administration was behind the broader mayoral control push.

The Final Countdown

From the Morning Memo:

Counting today, there are 15 days remaining in the 2015 legislative session, and things are heating up, with the Senate and Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo starting to lay out their respective agendas for the mad dash to the finish of what has been a very rocky year in Albany.

Yesterday, new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan released a list of his end-of-session priorities, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo did a whirlwind tour of four Brooklyn churches and a yeshiva to tout his latest version of the Education Investment Tax Credit, now known (with some additions and changes) as the Parental Choice in Education Act.

Also over the weekend, Flanagan introduced a bill that would make the 2 percent tax cap permanent – a top priority for the Senate GOP’s conservative and business allies. The Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a bill to extend the New York City rent laws for another four years and make them more tenant-friendly.

These two issues are linked, though the rent laws are scheduled to expire next month, and the cap won’t do so until next year.

When he ascended to the speaker’s post back in February, Carl Heastie said renewing and strengthening the city’s rent laws would be his “No. 1 priority” this session.

The “renewing” part is probably not going to be a problem with the Senate Republicans. With the exception of two lone NYC lawmakers – Sens. Marty Golden, of Brooklyn; and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island – the members of the GOP conference don’t have many (if any) constituents directly impacted by the laws.

But they did collectively benefit from well over $1 million from REBNY during the 2014 elections, which spent big to help the Republicans re-take the majority with an eye toward getting a clean extension – in other words, no pro-tenant changes – of the rent laws this year.

Also up for discussion is the controversial 421-a tax abatement program, which has been a boon to big NYC developers, who, in turn, have given big bucks across the board in Albany.

With the role played by developer Glenwood Management in the federal corruption scandals of both ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, advocates are hoping some rent law reforms could be had.

But the fact that Flanagan did not mention the issue in his priority list statement released yesterday was not a good sign, though he has said since ascending to the majority leader’s post that he expects both the rent laws and New York City mayoral control, which is also set to sunset next month, will likely be extended before the session’s scheduled end on June 17.

The Senate Republicans are likely going to push for unspecified changes to mayoral control to improve transparency and accountability, which is not going to sit too terribly well with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies in the Assembly Democratic conference.

Flanagan did include “common sense” reforms to the SAFE Act on his to do list – a nod to the conservative upstaters who did not support him during the battle to replace Skelos as leader because of his “yes” vote on the controversial gun control law.

The likelihood of the governor and Democrat-controlled Assembly signing off on any SAFE Act modifications is fairly low.

One conservative Republican lawmaker, Assemblyman Bill Nojay, of Livingston County, is suggesting Flanagan hold the rent laws hostage in exchange for SAFE Act reforms. But that seems like an extreme, playing-with-fire sort of approach that would not benefit the newly-minted majority leader – especially not as he looks toward what will be a difficult election year in 2016.

The Senate Republicans and the governor are on the same page – at least conceptually – when it comes to the education tax credit. This issue creates a problem for Heastie, who used to be a sponsor of legislation to enact the credit, but took his name off that – and all other bills – when he became speaker.

Mike Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, is quoted in the NY Times this morning that there has “not been sufficient support” in the conference for the tax credit, though some members – especially in poorer, urban areas – have been under intense pressure to back it.

Whyland also said Heastie would not allow the tax credit to be linked to passage of any other legislation – like, say, mayoral control of the New York City school system, which some are suggesting could be linked to raising the charter school cap, another issue pushed without success by Cuomo during the budget battle.

Cuomo tried unsuccessfully during the budget to link the education tax credit, which is a problem in the Assembly majority conference; to the DREAM Act, which is a problem in the Senate majority conference. Playing the two sides against one another didn’t work in that instance. We’ll see what ends up in the so-called, end-of-session “big ugly.”

The Assembly Democrats and Senate GOP are in agreement – again, conceptually – when it come to revisiting the education reforms, especially the teacher performance evaluation system, they agreed to in the budget deal. This is likely to be an uphill battle with Cuomo, for whom the education reforms were a bright spot in a budget that saw many of his policy priorities shunted aside.

Magnarelli Wishes DeFrancisco Snagged Majority Leader Post

Syracuse Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli is disappointed that fellow central New Yorker John DeFrancisco came up short in his bid to become the majority leader of the state Senate.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Magnarelli said in a Capital Tonight interview.

Magnarelli is a Democrat and acknowledged he’s disagreed with the Republican DeFrancisco over the years, but said his ascension to the top post would have given the area more clout in the Legislature.

DeFrancisco sought the post this week, but on Monday the GOP conference elected Long Island Sen. John Flanagan.

“He still would have been the favorite son of this area and I would have loved to have seen him be the leader in the Senate,” Magnarelli said. “I have nothing against John FLanagan, I served with John while he was in the Assembly. I think he is a good man and will probably be a great leader for the Senate.”

DeFrancisco isn’t the first upstate lawmaker to seek a top post in the Legislature.

In February, Rochester-area Assemblyman Joe Morelle sought to replace ousted Speaker Sheldon Silver who, like Dean Skelos this month, was arrested on corruption charges.

Morelle lost the speakership to Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie.

At the moment, the only legislative conference leader who lives north of Westchester County is Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Still, Magnarelli said the leadership fight in the Assembly led to a “more unified upstate caucus so we can make our voice heard in the Assembly.”

He added that making the upstate issues heard in the Legislature, however, remains a challenge.

“We’re always worried about that and that’s what makes this job challenging,” Magnarelli said. “We’ve got to make our voices heard.”

Comptroller’s Office Releasing Lawmaker Per Diem Information

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s website posted per diem reimbursement data of the state Legislature dating back to 2013 and plans to do update the information quarterly.

Already, lawmakers in both the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-led Senate have racked more than $1 million in travel reimbursements during the most recent fiscal quarter this year alone.

Data compiled by the comptroller’s office found the 150-member Assembly received $799,743 in per diem reimbursements. The 63-member Senate, meanwhile, accounted for $278,196.

The current per diem rate is $172 a day that can be spent on travel, hotel or lodging and food costs.

Ex-Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, who pleaded guilty in part to per diem abuse, has received the third highest in reimbursement between 2013 and now, $56,815.

So far this year, Assemblyman Michael Blake is leading the way, with $11,995.53. In the Senate, North Country Sen. Patty Richie has received the most, $8,800.

Legislative Travel Summary Final 4-22-15 by Nick Reisman

Assembly Releases New Travel Reporting Requirements

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday released new requirements for lawmakers reporting their official travel in order to obtain reimbursements.

The revisions to the chamber’s travel policies comes less than a week after former Assemblyman Bill Scarborough of Queens pleaded guilty to corruption charges stemming from his abuse of the per diem system in which he sought reimbursement he wasn’t entitled to.

“Transparency and accountability in government are essential to earning the public’s trust,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement. “This new policy provides clear and strong guidelines. These changes will make the process for applying for travel reimbursements more transparent. The use of electronic forms of verification will make the verification more reliable and at the same time allow the members of the Assembly to focus on the issues that matter most to the people of New York.”

The new requirements will have lawmakers verifying they were on official business when claiming the per diems.

Lawmakers will be required to make their presence known through electronic systems, including voting in committee and a swipe machine in the Legislative Office Building, located across the street from the Capitol.

Lawmakers can present travel documentation such as E-Z Pass or toll records or dated receipts from hotels, restaurants and other vendors that show they were in Albany on official business.

A recorded presence at an official Assembly-sponsored hearing or roundtable can count toward verification as well.