Assembly

Griffo, Kearns Cheer Term Limits Amendment

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo and Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns on Friday cheered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backing a constitutional amendment that would set term limits for state elected officials.

Both lawmakers since 2009 have backed legislation that would create term limits for the Senate, Assembly, as well as the statewide elected officials — governor, comptroller and attorney general.

Under the legislative proposal, the terms would be limited to 12 years for state lawmakers; Cuomo’s parameters limit the Legislature to two, four-year terms.

“If you want to fundamentally and dramatically change the culture of Albany, then you need to limit the amount of time our elected officials are in office,” Griffo said in a statement.

“Imposing term limits will regularly shake up the makeup of state government, which will force change and reinvigorate the legislative process by bringing in new faces and fresh ideas. There are plenty of compelling concepts being proposed that are worth examining to restore trust in government, but real ethics reform must begin with term limits.”

Senate Republicans have been supportive of term limits in the past, with the chamber enacting caps on the amount of time leaders can serve in top posts and chairmanships.

Term limits face a more difficult path to passage in the Democratic-led Assembly, however, where majority lawmakers have been generally more skeptical of the idea.

“I want to thank Senator Griffo for his leadership and sponsorship of this bill,” said Kearns, a western New York lawmaker. “The Governor’s stance on term limits is a welcome one and long overdue. We have witnessed unprecedented convictions of the highest ranking legislators in this state and continue to be shocked by further indictments. It is time to integrate words with actions by giving the voters the opportunity to decide.”

Cuomo is backing the term limit amendment in addition to a constitutional change that would create a full-time Legislature, both of which he hopes will achieve first passage in a potential special session that could precede the first legislative pay hike since 1998.

Lawmakers Split On Key Issues In Potential Special Session

From the Morning Memo:

As talk continues about a potential special December session of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting a push to unify Democrats in the fractious state Senate before next year’s session.

“I feeling strongly that Governor Cuomo can’t let the Republican Party and Donald Trump steal the New York state Senate,” said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.

The chamber is controlled by Republicans, but Democrats in the Senate were buoyed after a paper ballot count left their candidate in a Long Island Senate race with a 41 vote advantage, potentially giving them a 32-person majority. They would still need the seven-member Independent Democrats to come on board, as well as Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder.

Emotions on all sides continue to run high.

“It’s clear there are some personal differences and personal hostilities that are difficult for people, but I think it’s the moment in time people have to get past that,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action.

For Cuomo, the push and pull in the Senate is a sideshow compared to his efforts to engineer a special session that could result in the passage of constitutional amendments creating a full-time Legislature, term limits for elected officials and a reconstituted pay commission for lawmakers, who insist none of these items should be linked.

“The speaker is right that we have to be careful about the horsetrading. The pay has to be taken on its own merits,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat.

Assembly Democrats remain skeptical of the term limit proposal, which could benefit Senate Republicans, but are receptive to a full-time Legislature.

“I think there’s some merit to making the Legislature a full-time body. I know it’s a seven day-a-week job for me,” Fahy said. “You can never be away from your emails. You can never be away from keeping up on your constituent matters.”

It’s the opposite in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber have been opposed to a “professional” body, but receptive to term limits.

Over the last two days, the Cuomo administration, Senate Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Assembly Democrats have exchanged increasingly harsh statements over the state of negotiations surrounding a potential special session, as a potential pay raise hangs in the balance.

“You do see some of the bickering,” said Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, “and I think it highlights the very reason why there shouldn’t be politics involved in discussion with legislators salaries.”

Cuomo And Heastie Spar Over Special Session Specifics

From the Morning Memo:

On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted their office had not been in talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration for a pair of constitutional amendments that, if approved, would dramatically change state government.

“We haven’t heard of anything of this,” said Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland. “This is completely false.”

And Heastie himself in a statement later in the evening doubled down on that after Cuomo’s office publicly released the specifics of their amendment proposals that would ban outside income and term limit state lawmakers and elected officials.

In a statement, Heastie said “a number of items” Cuomo has been discussing “have never been brought to my attention.”

“These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the Governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me,” Heastie said. “The Governor is entitled to his wish list about how he wants to see the world, but the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must be respected.”

Heastie’s office throughout Wednesday had denied there was any effort to link ethics reform or any other policies to the reauthorization of a pay commission that would potentially grant lawmakers their first salary increase since 1998.

Acknowledging the issue of linkage is a sensitive one to lawmakers, a Cuomo source close to the talks insisted none of the issues under discussion for a special session — including procurement reform, funding a hate crimes task force and funds for affordable housing — were linked to each other.

The back and forth didn’t end with dueling Heastie and Cuomo statements.

A Cuomo administration officia later Wendesday night sent along this statement: “The speaker must be confused. He met with the Governor on Sunday, talked to Robert Mujica today and his top staff has been talking to executive chamber staff for days.”

The official elaborated an hour later in a longer statement on the issue that was a bit more moderated in tone, but nevertheless urged Heastie to consider more in a special session beyond the reauthorization of the legislative pay commission.

“The Speaker should be working in good faith to reach a workable compromise with the Senate and the Governor rather than wasting precious time which will soon make a resolution impossible by the Dec 31 deadline. This is a zero sum game and if there is no resolution it will be a disservice to his members and to the people of New York,” the official said.

“He also must have forgotten that he spoke to the Budget director today on all these proposals, met with the Governor on Sunday and that his top staffers have been in constant touch with the executive chamber. If the speaker is only interested in a pay raise and is unwilling to pass any legislation that helps the state then he should pass a pay raise on Monday and at least tell the people of the state his position but we want nothing to do with it if there is no public benefit.”

On top of it all, an observer called to note it was the Cuomo administration — not the courts — that announced Chief Judge Janet DiFiore had selected a new chair for the pay commission, a detail included in the lengthy statement on Wednesday night.

Despite the sniping between state government’s top Democrats, a special session is still not out of the question. State lawmakers, especially Democrats who represent the New York City region, are especially eager for a pay increase from the base $79,500, citing the metropolitan area’s cost of living.

Majority Leader John Flanangan does back a pay increase, but Senate Republicans may be a tougher conference to bring to the table, given their incentive is not as strong.

Heastie and Cuomo have had an increasingly truculent relationship over the last several months that has, with the speaker having been clearly annoyed at the end of the legislative session this year, blasting the governor’s ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, squeezing the Democratic-led Assembly in the process.

Confirming Amendments Push, Cuomo’s Office Says Ball In Legislature’s Court

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday night formally confirmed the push for a pair of constitutional amendments that would ban outside income and term limit the state Legislature as talk of a special session before the end of the year heats up.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, insisted in a statement — as he has done repeatedly — that no measures should be linked to a legislative pay raise.

Cuomo outlined earlier in the day what he would like from a special session of the Legislature: approval of $2 billion in affordable housing, procurement reform and the funding of a hate crimes task force.

At the same time, Cuomo said lawmakers could return to re-authorize the existence of a commission that could recommend a pay increase. Cuomo’s appointees back a “modest” pay increase for the Legislature or, baring action on ethics reform, a significant hike.

“The Governor is most interested in having the people’s business attended to and believes if there is to be a special session the legislators should do more than merely reauthorize a committee to consider their pay raise,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement.

The constitutional amendments, as laid out by Cuomo’s office in the evening statement, would create a four-year legislative term, essentially limit legislators to two terms. Statewide elected official would limited to eight years as would new members of the Legislature.

The amendment would also extend “the life of the Pay Commission until post Constitutional Amendments determinations.”

Meanwhile, there’s a new chair of the pay commission, Cuomo’s office announced, suggesting the panel isn’t quite dead yet.

“The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is appointing a new Chair of the Commission, former Judge Leo Milonas,” Azzopardi said. “It is now up to the legislature to decide what they want to do.”

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, meanwhile insisted no linkage should be made in any special session to what lawmakers view as disparate and distinct issues.

“As I have said many, many times, we are simply not going to trade a pay raise for any piece of legislation. That is wildly inappropriate and I cannot be any clearer on this subject. That said, we have had a number of conversations on issues important to the people of New York,” Heastie said.

The speaker at the same time said a number of a measures that Cuomo has raised haven’t been discussed.

“However, there are items that the Governor has spoken about that have never been brought to my attention,” he said. “These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the Governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me. The Governor is entitled to his wish list about how he wants to see the world, but the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must be respected.”

Special Session Buzz?

The elements are there for a complicated, Rube Goldberg-style contraption that, when sprung, will lead to a special session: Constitutional amendments for ethics reforms, issues like combating homelessness, reforming procurement and tackling hate crimes all on the table.

Oh, and a wink and nod for the first legislative pay raise since 1998.

Whether this trap is actually tripped, however, remains to be seen.

Moments after The Daily News reported on the discussions surrounding constitutional amendments that would limit legislative pay and the terms they serve in office, the office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted no talks were being held.

“There is no truth to the article claiming we are discussing term limits or constitutional amendments in exchange for a pay raise,” Heastie tweeted.

Cuomo, however, seemed in a mood to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding for affordable housing funds, a hate crimes task force and procurement reform.

That could also include the Legislature reauthorizing a commission tasked with considering legislative pay, Cuomo said. The governor’s appointees earlier in November backed a legislative pay increase, but with the caveat of linking the hike to limits on outside income for lawmakers — a linkage legislative leaders insist is a non-starter.

Cuomo’s members on the commission suggested that despite the law that disbands the commission this month, the panel would still be able to meet before the end of the year to consider a modest pay increase sans ethics reform. A more significant pay raise would be in the offering should lawmakers back changes, such as backing a ban on outside income.

But on Wednesday at an economic development announcement in Hornell, Cuomo says lawmakers would still have to vote to bring the pay commission back.

“The legislature has to come back to reauthorize the commission,” he said. “In other words, the commission arguably went out of existence and now has to be reauthorized.”

Lawmakers currently earn a base pay of $79,500 and many — especially those in the downstate region — have grumbled about the cost of living in the New York City region not being covered by such a salary. A lame duck session is not out of the ordinary. The last one was in 2012, when lawmakers re-approved a version of the “millionaires tax” on high-income earners, releasing pressure on what had been a contentious issue for Cuomo.

Cuomo has insisted he’s sympathetic to those issues, but he wants something (albeit carefully not saying those issues are all linked).

“What’s even better is if you do the peoples’ business when you come back because we have a number of things that are critical to get done now for the people,” he said. “I want to get the peoples’ work done for the people of the state.”

Amid National Hacking Concerns, BOE Seeks To Fill Cyber Security Posts

New York’s system of collecting, counting and reporting vote totals was almost certainly not breached by a cyber attack on Election Day. But officials at the state Board of Elections say they are constantly fending off potential efforts by cyber criminals to gain access.

“You know, you keep asking if we were attacked, and it’s a little hard for us to answer that because there’s always somebody trying to infiltrate your website,” said Todd Valentine, a Republican commissioner on the board.

Lawmakers in the state Assembly on Tuesday at a public hearing quizzed state elections officials on the integrity of voting in New York amid concerns elections systems elsewhere in the country had been hacked.

“The FBI has acknowledged there were two states that had cyberattacks early on in the election,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick, the Staten Island lawmaker who chairs the chamber’s Elections Committee, “so it’s important for us to find out what’s in place for New York.”

Evidence, however, is thin as to whether any of these efforts, potentially with the backing of a foreign government like Russia, swayed the election. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is nevertheless funding recount efforts in three states. And President-elect Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that he lost the popular vote because of fraud, without citing any evidence.

But even so, elections officials said they didn’t take anything to chance in the lead up to Election Day in New York, with federal law enforcement also providing assistance to county elections commissioners.

“From our perspective, the Department of Homeland Security did step up and offer help to call into those counties who had either been unable to answer the survey or needed some help,” said Bob Brehm, a Democratic commissioner on the board. “They said, help.”

Elections officials say more help is needed for county governments in New York who oversee voting. The need is especially high in smaller counties.

“They did not have adequate resources to do that,” Brehm said. “They had questions and certainly if you look at the period of time between August and election day, everybody was extremely busy both on our level and on the county level.

The Board of Elections in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office called to fill three positions that would oversee information technology and cyber security.

At the same time, the commissioners want to enhance cyber security at the board writ large.

“They find a way in,” Brehm said. “What we need to do is put in place the monitoring on an ongoing basis and make sure we are up to date on those monitoring services.”

Lawmaker: Why Are I Love NY Signs Being Printed In Arkansas?

A Utica state lawmaker is disturbed by the news that Arkansas, not New York, is printing the increasingly ubiquitous “I Love NY” signs that have dotted the Thruway.

To that end, Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi has written a letter to state Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll calling on the state to print the signs here.

“At a time when upstate New York’s economy is still struggling, I believe the state should be doing everything possible to provide projects for our state’s businesses and manufacturers,” Brindisi wrote in the letter to Driscoll sent last week.

“I realize existing DOT contract provisions permitted the contractor for this project to hire qualified sub-contractors, but I think it is time to re-examine that practice. I am offering my assistance if legislation needs to be introduced to fix this problem.”

The signs, as reported by Gannett, include the I Love NY, Taste NY and Path Through History logos, were printed by Interstate Sign Ways of Arkansas, through the practice of having primary contractors subcontract their work to other firms.

“I find it ironic that a company from Arkansas was paid to work on a project helping to promote New York State products,” Brindisi said. “Perhaps it is time to look at the DOT’s contract guidelines, because the push to provide more work for New York companies should start with the state of New York.”

The signs have also stirred controversy for running afoul of federal highway laws, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration insists all guidelines are being follow.

Amid Recount Push, Assembly To Assess Election Security

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-led Assembly today will hold a hearing on the security and integrity of elections in New York amid concerns of foreign hacking of voter registration rolls.

The hearing also comes as former Green Party candidate Jill Stein is launching recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — swing states won by Republican Donald Trump.

“The hearing will focus on the effectiveness of measures currently in place to protect against cyber-infiltration or attack,” lawmakers said in a statement.

“Members of the committees will examine whether additional federal or state assistance maybe be necessary to implement and fund programs that will ensure that the process for future elections is protected from foreign and domestic computer hackers.”

There’s no direct evidence that foreign hackers could have swayed the election and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign has said it is all but impossible the results would be overturned.

At the same time, swaying a nationwide election in general is considered a difficult task, considering the decentralized method of U.S. states and counties voting.

Still, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton remains concerned that at the very least there should be some sort of broad federal overview of how voting was conducted.

Lifton, a Democrat who represents the Ithaca area, released a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday afternoon calling for a federal audit of the vote.

“In a transparent democracy, we should be doing audits, simply as a matter of course, to ensure that the vast majority of the public trusts the election results,” she wrote in the letter. “Instead, audits, and the nature of those audits, have been left to the discretion of any given state, and my experience in New York State argues against such broad discretion in federal elections.”

But Lifton notes in the letter the charges of hacking by foreign actors potentially backed by Russia of Democratic Party emails — raising concerns the integrity of the election could have been compromised.

“Even though some experts dismiss those concerns, what really matters in a transparent, well-functioning democracy is what the average American perceives to be the case, and the concern about possible Russian hacking is likely widespread, in my view,” she said. “I don’t see why our federal government would let such pervasive doubts stand rather than disproving them through a forensic computer audit.”

Trump, meanwhile, claimed without evidence on Twitter over the weekend that he would have won the popular had it not been for widespread and fraudulent voting on Election Day. Trump’s unfounded claim was blasted by Democrats.

Letter to Loretta Lynch USDOJ Calling for National Audit of Election%2c 112816 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Legislature Spends $271K On Sexual Harassment Investigations

Allegedly bad behavior in the Legislature is cost taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars in October, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Both chambers of the Legislature spent six figures last month on retaining legal services related to claims of sexual harassment, according to a list of approved contracts by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

In the Democratic-led Assembly, $150,000 was spent to extend the contract with the law firm Rossein Associates for independent investigations of sexual harassment.

In the GOP-controlled Senate, meanwhile, $121,000 was approved for two contracts with Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”

The firm has been hired in the past by the Senate in order to handle a harassment complaint in the office of Sen. Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, in 2012. Avella himself was not the target of the complaint.

Democratic Sen. Marc Panepinto of Buffalo abruptly announced this year he would not seek another term in the chamber, at the time citing a “personnel matter” as well as allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Legislature in recent years has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, including the late former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, ex-Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak and soon-to-depart Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak.

With Trump As President, Pressure Put On Cuomo For Dream Act

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly are once again pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include the Dream Act in a final budget deal next year — an effort that’s taken on new urgency with the election of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency.

The bill would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and has been considered a key measure for Latino lawmakers in Albany.

The Dream Act has stalled for years in the Legislature amid Republican opposition in the state Senate, where GOP lawmakers have campaigned against the proposal as polls generally show a plurality of voters in the state opposing the idea.

“It’s going to be an interesting session,” said Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda in a Capital Tonight interview. “There are a lot of issues with Trump now being the president. The governor is going to have to lead. He’s going to have to be one of the primary leaders on progressive issues throughout the country, not just in New York.”

At the same time, Cuomo is being viewed as a potential 2020 presidential candidate and, at the very least, a Democrat who can broadcast a liberal vision during the wilderness years for the party. Over the last week, Cuomo has asserted New York would be a “refuge” for immigrants during the Trump presidency — allaying liberal fears and laying the groundwork for a potential bid for national office.

“Let’s test his mettle,” Sepulveda said. “Will he put the DREAM Act in the budget? That will be the first sign he’s willing to find to the end of these kids and some of these progressive causes.”

The pressure would also come as Cuomo is facing the crosscurrents of a Democratic-led Assembly deeply unhappy over his appointees on a commission this week blocking the first pay increase for state lawmakers since 1998, arguing that any such hike should also come with legislators limiting how much they earn outside of government.

Cuomo, too, has repeatedly voiced support for the Dream Act even as Republicans insist the bill is a non-starter in budget talks.

But both Sepvulved and Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya stopped short of declaring they would not back a spending plan next year that failed to include the provision.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to galvanize as a body,” Moya said “There’s a federal government that’s changing the way they view people of color, Latinos. Right now, we have a piece of legislation we should be championing. It’s time for action, not words.”