Coalition Urges Heastie To Drop MMA Support

A coalition of women’s groups, business and labor organizations is urging Speaker Carl Heastie to drop his stated support for the legalization of mized-martial arts, according to a letter obtained by Capital Tonight.

In the letter, the coalition known as MMA Go Away writes to Heastie that the sport, which has been the subject of intense lobbying in recent years at the Capitol, is “hostile” to women given its level of violence.

“With your election as Speaker of the State Assembly, the women of this state are looking forward to a new day in Albany. As we celebrate the historic progress reflected by your ascension to Speaker, it is equally important to send the forceful message that the Assembly is fully committed to being a voice for women across every corner of the state,” the coalition wrote in the letter. “The issue of violence against women stands out as blight on our society, and nowhere is that violence more disturbingly displayed than in mixed martial arts culture. Thus, we strongly urge you to oppose the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts this session.”

The letter signed by NOW-NYC and Assemblywoman Michelle Solages.

Heastie has been a previous sponsor of the MMA legalization legislation, though he removed his name from the sponsorship of bills so as to not show a preference for any particular piece of legislation.

The Bronx Democrat did tell reporters that he remains personally supportive of MMA, but would leave it up to his conference whether there is a vote on the bill this year.

Heastie’s predecessor, Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver, was opposed to the legalization of MMA.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle last week re-introduced his MMA legalization bill.

The bill is expected to be voted on in the state Senate later this year, where it has passed multiple times.

MMA Letter by Nick Reisman

Heastie: ‘Disappointment’ In 30-Day Amendments

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said on Thursday he told Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week he was disappointed that the 30-day amendments to his budget proposal tied policy to appropriations.

In particular, the governor is linking his outside income disclosure proposals and reforms to travel reimbursements to spending in the $142 billion budget, including the comptroller’s office and capital projects.

“The governor and I have spoken and he knows about my disappointment in how he presented the 30-day amendments,” Heastie told reporters at a news conference.

“It kind of ties the Legislature’s hands to act,” he added.

In many respects, that is indeed Cuomo’s point: Lawmakers can strike out or approve language in the budget, but they cannot alter it. Cuomo and lawmakers, of course, could negotiate new budget bills wholesale before the deadline.

Heastie said he still wants to have a budget approved by the March 31 deadline.

“We don’t want to play the blame game, we want to get an on-time budget,” he said.

The speaker, who is negotiating his first budget with Cuomo since taking office last month, wouldn’t speculate on whether lawmakers could mount a legal challenge to Cuomo’s wedding of policy to spending.

“Again, I expressed my disappointment to the governor,” he said. “There’s a lot of things the Legislature could consider, but I think in the midst of all that the governor seems to be in a good place where we’re actively in discussions for having a budget.”

Heastie: Keep DREAM Act As A Standalone Bill

Add Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to the list of legislative officials who want the DREAM Act separated from the education tax credit.

“We’re going to pass it as a standalone today and we believe should be passed as a standalone,” Heastie said of the DREAM Act.

Both measures have been lashed together by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in his 30-day amendments last week also yoked the measures to funding for the Tuition Assistance Program.

“We don’t believe they should be linked it, either,” Heastie said. “We’re moving forward today believing they should be considered on their own merits.”

The Democratic-led Assembly today is expected to approve the DREAM Act, a measure that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Republicans are largely opposed to the bill, but support the tax credit legislation, which is backed by religious organizations and is aimed at helping non-profits receive donations that aid scholarship funds.

“The investment tax credit will be another standalone issue that we decide as a conference,” Heastie said. “All of these issues are on the table, but we wanted to move forward with the DREAM Act today.”

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb this week said he wanted TAP decoupled from the DREAM Act as well.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos after exiting a leaders meeting on Wednesday said he wanted all three issues unlinked.

Assembly Republicans Push For School Aid Runs

Republicans in the state Assembly on Thursday pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release school aid runs so that districts can better plan their budgets and tax levies, which are due to go before voters this May.

“I can think of no worse example of not being transparent, not having sunlight than not releasing school aid runs for school districts around the state,” Minority Leader Brian Kolb said.

The information typically is released in conjunction with a governor’s annual budget proposal and provides a district-by-district breakdown of how much money a given school district expects to receive in state aid.

This year, as Cuomo ties most of his $1.1 billion spending increase in education to policy changes, his office has declined to release the school aid information. Cuomo has said school districts should budget with last year’s state aid numbers as a projection.

Still, not releasing the aid runs is an unusual step for Albany’s budgeting process, lawmakers said.

“School districts need this information so they can at least start their planning,” Kolb said. “I have been here 15 years and I’ve never experienced a governor in both parties as not releasing school aid runs in both parties not releasing school aid runs as part of their budget.”

Cuomo’s budget would create a more stringent teacher evaluation system and make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure. At the same time, Cuomo wants to increase the statewide cap on charter schools by 100.

The policies have put Cuomo on a collision course with the state’s teachers unions, which have accused the governor of being “anti-teacher.”

But for districts, the lack of aid information is more acute, with anticipated levies due by March 1.

“There’s a process that has to take place,” said School Boards Association President Tim Kremer. T”hese are multi-million dollar budgets and putting them together with a few weeks notice is impossible.”

Kremer said that some districts are even moving forward with layoffs while assuming flat spending increases.

“This has become very chaotic without that revenue figure,” he said.

Morelle Re-Introduces MMA Legalization Bill (Updated)

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on Friday has re-introduced his bill that would legalize mixed-martial arts in New York, according to a bill sponsoring memo he’s circulating among his Democratic colleagues.

The bill’s re-introduction in the Assembly comes after a major opponent of the sport, Sheldon Silver, was toppled from the speakership in the chamber following his arrest on corruption charges.

His successor, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, has backed MMA legalization measures in the past, but recently announced he was removing his name from bills.

But even with Silver now just a rank-and-file member, opposition to mixed-martial arts is still considered strong in the Democratic-led chamber.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, MMA legalization has passed several times in recent years.

Heastie has said he would leave the decision up to the conference as to whether there would be a vote on MMA during this legislative session.

Updated: Morelle spokesman Sean Hart notes the following —

It is fair to say that opposition to the legislation exists within the Democratic Conference. However, we would hardly characterize current opposition as “strong.” If anything, all signs point to support growing within the Conference. We are optimistic that the bill will come to the floor this year.

MMA Sponsorship Memorandum by Nick Reisman

Heastie Forms Climate Change Panel

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Thursday the formation of a new working group that would study ways to address climate change legislatively.

In doing so, the Bronx Democrat pointed to human activity as the cause for the planet’s changing weather and climate patterns, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not emphasized when he has discussed the need to prepare for “extreme weather.”

“There is no longer a question of whether or not our planet is changing. With each passing year that efforts are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we increase our vulnerability to the extreme weather events and natural disasters that have continued to claim lives and which have wrought billions of dollars in economic losses over the last ten years alone.” said Heastie in a statement. “With the creation of the is new work group on climate change, we will help to ensure that our choices moving forward are informed, responsible and in the best interests of our environment and our citizens.”

The panel will be led by Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Steve Engleberight and includes lawmakers William Colton, Kevin A. Cahill, Fred W. Thiele, Jr., Barbara S. Lifton, Steven Otis, Robert J. Rodriguez, James Skoufis, Kimberly Jean-Pierre, and Roxanne J. Persaud.

The panel will examine how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through changes to regulations and current law.

Silver Threatened With $120K JCOPE Fine

Former Speaker Sheldon Silver faces a fine of up to $120,000 for failing to properly disclose his outside income, according to a notice quietly filed on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ website.

The delinquency notice comes after Silver’s arrest last month on charges that he received millions of dollars in bribes — which federal prosecutors allege were masked as legal referrals — from two law firms over the last 10 years.

The notice alleges that Silver faces the fines after not listing that income on his disclosure forms over a three-year period, or $40,000 a year.

Silver resigned the speakership, a post he’s held since 1994, but retained his seat in the Democratic-led Assembly.

The notice was included on JCOPE’s web page with little fanfare on Tuesday evening.

JCOPE’s board includes three Silver appointees.

NOD Silver by Nick Reisman

Camara To Headline Education Reform Rally

Brooklyn Assemblyman Karim Camara, who will soon join Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to lead its faith-based policies office, will headline on Wednesday a rally held by the education reform group StudentsFirstNY.

The group, which is aligned with Cuomo’s efforts to strengthen charter schools and create a more stringent teacher evaluation system, will hold a rally at the Medgar Evers College Founders Auditorium in Brooklyn.

Camara will be joined by New York City public school parents and StudentsFirstNY organizing director Tenicka Boyd.

The rally, which starts at 6:30 p.m., comes as both sides of the education policy debate prepare to dig in over the next coming weeks.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal, due to pass by March 31, includes a $1.1 billion funding increase for schools, though much of that spending is tied to the governor’s education policy measures.

In addition to changing the evaluation system, Cuomo wants to make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure, easier for the state to takeover failing schools and reward high-scoring teachers with a $20,000 bonus.

The push has the governor crosswise with the state’s teachers unions, who are pointing to Cuomo’s generous campaign support from wealthy backers of charter schools.

NFL Franchise Tax Bill Introduced In Assembly

A bill that would place a franchise tax on the National Football League was introduced in the Democratic-led Assembly last week, matching a Senate measure supported by Manhattan Democrat Brad Hoylman.

The measure’s main sponsor happens to be a football fan: Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, an unabashed New York Giants supporter.

The bill is aimed at addressing a 1966 loophole in the federal tax code that grants the NFL tax exempt status as a trade group, similar to a chamber of commerce.

The bill, which was introduced in the Republican-led Senate in January, came after after the league received criticism for its handling of domestic abuse and assault cases involving players.

The NFL’s handling of the cases put new scrutiny on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (whose cousin Andy Goodell is a Republican lawmaker in the Assembly) and his $44 million a year salary.

Hoylman in October estimated the state is losing out on “hundreds of thousands” in estimated revenue from the tax exemption.

Bill Would Create Emergency Med-Mar Program

From the Morning Memo:

A bill introduced this month in the Legislature would create an emergency medical marijuana program ahead of the state’s own program, currently being phased in over the course of this year.

The bill is backed by two Republican lawmakers: Sen. Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley and Brian Kolb, the Assembly minority leader from Canandaigua. The measure would create an emergency program now for those who suffer from epilepsy and other serious illnesses.

“This is an opportunity to help patients sooner rather than later in terms of waiting for the full program implemented in 2016,” Kolb said in an interview.

The bill comes as the Department of Health develops regulations for the state’s first medical marijuana program. The tightly prescribed program would exclude smokeable forms of marijuana and limit dispensaries to different regions of the state.

Patients who suffer from illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and HIV qualify for the program. The full medical marijuana program is expected to be established by the state in January 2016. The program includes what amounts to a “kill switch” allowing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to end it at any time. But the program’s pace of implementation following the approval of a medical marijuana program bill last June, has come under criticism from advocates for patients and their families, who contend the relief is needed.

Kolb said he met recently with a family of a child from his district who could benefit from access to the drug now. “Their option right now is to try to fight through this or go to a state like Colorado and take their daughter there,” he said.

Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island and one of the main proponents of medical marijuana program, disagreed that the program needs to be implemented faster, saying it would create only complications for patients.

“It is critically important the Department of Health puts all of its efforts into establishing a regulatory process, issuing the licenses and making sure we have a robust program that could benefit all of the potential applicants in New York state,” she said. “Any deviation from that effort will delay the entire program.”

In addition to creating problems with the federal government, an emergency program benefitting some patients could lead to legal challenges. “If they were to simply establish an emergency license for one applicant, the likelihood is we would be sued from other potential applicants, which would set the entire program back indefinitely,” she said.

A Cuomo administration official was similarly skeptical of the idea to create an emergency mechanism.

“Layering a separate program over the one already being implemented would be unworkable,” the official said.

Kolb acknowledged the need to develop effective regulations at the state Department of Health for the program.

“I think overall I understand they have to take their time to implement the program properly,” he said. “Having said that, what do we do with those patients in dire need of help that’s not available or not workable in current medication form?”

Kolb, meanwhile, said it’s not that eyebrow-raising the bill is a GOP-backed effort.

“There should be no surprise because what I think we’re trying to do is provide good solutions for the people in our state,” he said.