Silver: ‘Startling’ That Senate Hasn’t Passed The Dream Act

It’s “startling” the Senate is yet to approve legislation that would give the children of undocumented immigrants access to state tuition assistance, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday said.

The Democratic-led Assembly is expected to once again approve the Dream Act legislation later this afternoon, and will insert the measure into its one-house budget proposal as it did last year.

The program that is expected to cost about $27 million, Silver said.

At a news conference flanked by members of his Democratic conference and advocates for the bill, Silver said their is a pro-business argument to be made for the bill, namely that the private sector will benefit from a more educated workforce.

“It’s startling the Senate is yet to take up this legislation,” he said. “This is not a state that can afford to waste bright young minds.”

The picture is a bit more complicated in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a breakaway conference of four Democrats that have formed a majority coalition.

Several Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns with the measure, though Sen. George Latimer recently announced they would support the bill.

Supporters of the bill in the Assembly, including Queens Democrat Francisco Moya, said they were yet to identify potential “yes” votes on the Republican side of the aisle in the state Senate.

Silver remained optimistic the measure would be included in the final budget agreement, due by April 1, though he would say if he would hold out for the legislation to be included in the final spending plan.

“I don’t have the privilege of negotiating a budget with you,” he said to a reporter.

As for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, advocates were enthused when he indicated last week he would sign the legislation if it is approved the Senate this year. Still, Cuomo has not emphasized the Dream Act in his public announcements, nor did he include the measure in his budget or 30-day amendments.

Assembly Retains Harassment Investigators

The state Assembly has taken out two contracts worth $205,000 for independent counsel “related to sexual harassment policy development and investigations,” according to the state comptroller’s office on Tuesday.

The contracts, made with Rossein Associates, come following a spate of sexual harassment scandals to hit the Democratic-led chamber that have led to the resignations of Brooklyn’s Vito Lopez and western New York lawmaker Dennis Gabryszak.

Records filed with the state comptroller’s office show $140,017 in taxpayer funds have been spent since the firm was retained in the fall, which is run by a CUNY law professor who specializes in harassment cases.

The contract’s listing was included in a news released by the comptroller’s office detailing recent state contracts found in the Open Book database.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came under fire for his handling of the Lopez harassment case, especially the $103,000 in secret settlement money approved for Lopez’s victims.

Silver has apologized for keeping the case confidential, but says no laws were broken by him or his top aides.

Lopez resigned following an ethics investigation that found he broke the public officers law.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, accused of harassment aides in his office, is appealing a decision from Silver’s office that stripped him of his chairmanship and is reducing his staff allocation through attrition. Kellner is not running for re-election to the Assembly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal includes money for a toll-free number to be run by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics for state employees to report sexual harassment.

Caputo, Lalor Get Into Westchester Radio Scrap

Michael Caputo, the western New York political operative who is supportive of Donald Trump’s candidacy for governor, was in a lengthy radio scrap with Dutchess County Republican Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor on Wednesday over the potential gubernatorial candidacies of both the reality TV show personality and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

The conversation quickly turned heated.

Both Caputo and Lalor phoned into the WVOX show “The Sounding Board” with Matt Richter and Jerry McKinstry, to debate how serious Trump is about making a run for governor. Earlier in the day, a New York Post OpEd by Lalor urged Trump to drop the talk of running for governor and support Astorino.

Caputo, needless to say, has taken issue with this, saying on the radio show the OpEd was tantamount to a declaration of war against Trump by the Astorino side.

“I don’t think Assemblyman Lalor really knows exactly what he did today,” Caputo said. “I do think he was put up to this by Chairman Cox and Rob Astorino because he’s quite close to the county executive and now he’s close to Ed Cox because long ago he stopped being an outlier and joined the establishment of the Republican Party that hasn’t won a statewide office in more than a decade.”

Lalor shot back that he has only met Astorino twice and doesn’t have much of a relationship with him or the state party chairman.

“I think he’s a fine man, but I don’t see that he’s a serious candidate,” Lalor said of Trump. “He has a track record of flirting with public office only to back out.”

Lalor repeatedly insisted that party officials are only attending Trump events because of his celebrity status.

“If Kim Kardashian did a GOP event in my area, I would go. I certainly would get a picture with her, and I certainly would not vote for her for governor,” he said. “So just because you’re selling out some GOP events upstate doesn’t make you gubernatorial timber.”

Later, Caputo was asked, in effect, if the criticism was getting to Trump, leading to this exchange:

Caputo: I think that’s a fun thing to talk about, sure. But Donald Trump has been under attack for 25 years and his business has grown substantially all that time. His popularity has grown substantially all that time. Mr. Trump doesn’t care about what an assemblyman writes.

Lalor: Why did you call in today? Why are the gloves off now over 600 words in The Post? Why is Donald Trump so upset?

Caputo: Donald Trump isn’t offended. I’m offended by what you wrote, assemblyman.

Lalor: But you’re his minion!

After a break, Lalor continued to pound away at Trump being an “embarrassment” to Republicans.

“The birth certificate claims that Trump made — that’s an embarrassment to Trump, that would be an embarrassment to the other people on the ticket,” Lalor said. “I certainly don’t want to be answering questions about Trump and the Obama birth certificate nonsense from a couple of years ago. I don’t want to be answering questions about bankruptcy. I don’t want the attorney general to be investigating the person on the top of our ticket. I wish the Trump camp would confront those issues, not this hocus pocus about now the gloves are off.”

Caputo demurred at first, saying the Post OpEd wasn’t “nearly as polite as the assemblyman is being right now.”

And he further fumed:

“Mr. Trump has not talked about the downsides of Rob Astorino. I think he will now and the assemblyman has tested that. The problem is assemblyman, you may have been a corporal in the Marines, but in politics you’re a private and you can’t really understand the damage you’ve done to this process. Now you’ve opened the floodgates and the damage is on you.”

Later, Lalor said many Republicans two years ago didn’t want to publicize a photo op they had with Trump when he attended a Dutchess County event.

Then the gloves, as it were, truly came off.

Lalor: “It’s funny because Trump came up to Dutchess County in 2012 and a lot of candidates were there and if they took pictures with him because of his celebrity status they certainly didn’t put it on the website because of the embarrassment and the baggage attached Trump.”

Caputo “Ah, so people are embarrassed to be around Trump, but they’re not embarrassed around a guy whose father was convicted of police corruption.”

Lalor: I don’t even know what to say that. I guess it shows the desperation of the Trump camp to be reaching for that kind of stuff.

The interviews ended with Lalor accusing Caputo of attempting to profit from a wealthy candidate.

“The political consulting class loves the self-funder,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if they can win or lose, they love the self-funding candidate because they’re going to write checks to the political consultants because it’s good business for the political consultants. Just ask Linda McMahon and her two failed campaigns for Senate.”

Caputo responded that Lalor just doesn’t know what he is talking about.

“I know you’re going to make this accusation that I’m in this to make money, but that’s not what I’m in this for,” he said. “I’m in this to save this state and if you don’t understand this –

And sadly, the hosts had to end their show.

Lalor will be a guest on Capital Tonight at 8 and on the replay at 11:30.

Lentol Backs Schneiderman’s Wrongful Imprisonment Bill

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol on Wednesday said he’ll introduce Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s measure that would allow those wrongfully convicted to claim damages from the state.

“New York State law currently presents unnecessary and unjust barriers to recovery for some individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned,” Lentol said. “It is bad enough to be locked up for 20 years for a crime you did not commit, but even worse if you can’t get compensated for the time you lost.”

Existing state law allows the wrongfully convicted to pursue damage claims only if they can show they didn’t bring their own conviction through personal conduct, such as a false confession.

Lentol’s office says research has shown a “large majority” of incorrect convictions resulted in coerced false statements of confession.

The new legislation would allow those even after making the false confession to pursue a claim.

“I am proud to sponsor this legislation to fix the law, and I thank the Attorney General for his leadership on this issue,” Lentol concluded.

Weisenberg: Restore COLAs To Human Services Workers

Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, along with about 100 other Democratic and Republican members of the Assembly, sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expressing support for a restoration of the cost-of-living-adjustment for those who work in the human services fields.

Employees of non-profit providers licensed by five state agencies are impacted by the end of the cost-of-living-adjustment.

The agencies are: the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, the Office for Mental Health, the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Health, the Office for Children and Family Services and the State Office for the Aging.

The letter was distributed by Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a vocal advocate in the Legislature for the developmentally disabled.

In the letter, Weisenberg notes the COLA was initially included in the 2006 spending plan and authorized over the next three years. However, the COLA was only granted in that budget year and has been cut each time.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $142.1 billion spending plan doesn’t include the COLA, either.

“Collectively, these individuals provide vital quality of life service for those who are truly unable to care for themselves due to developmental disabilities, mental health issues, debilitating diseases and other physical limitations,” the letter to Silver says. “For very little compensation, these dedicated individuals perform duties that are often daunting, heartbreaking and physically challenging. The low salaries, coupled with the absence of a COLA, have had a devastating impact on job retention in these positions.”

Silver, Nolan Call for Common Core Delay

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan today called for a two-year delay – “at minimum” – in using Common Core test results for “high-stakes” decisions for teachers, principals and students.

Silver and Nolan said in a statement that “New Yorkers share the same goal – to improve our schools and help prepare our students to be successful and college and career ready upon graduation.”

But given the concerns raised over the controversial new curriculum, particularly in connection with the use of test data in teacher evaluations, the Democratic lawmakers said it would be both “prudent” and “wise” to put the brakes on.

At the same time, they said, the state Education Department should “continue to develop Common Core aligned curricula and assist local school districts in developing their own curricula” so teachers will successfully be able to instruct and assist students in reaching their maximum potential.

This is a victory of sorts for NYSUT, which has been pushing for a three-year moratorium, and also for the union’s embattled president, Dick Iannuzzi, who is facing a challenge to his leadership by a UFT-backed slate that includes his own No. 2, Andy Pallotta.

Up to this point, Silver has held off on making any definitive pronouncements on how to proceed on the hot-button topic of Common Core, even as many of his members and his political allies (ie: NYSUT) have been clamoring for a moratorium.

Silver made it clear that he believed the case had been made for a delay of implementing the Common Core standards, but also said he wanted to wait and see what a subcommittee set up by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to address this issue came up with.

The subcommittee has not yet reported back, but is expected to do so as early as next Monday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also waited for months while the Common Core controversy swirled before getting involved himself, finally weighing in during his budget address last month.

Cuomo said he supports the Common Core agenda, but believes the way it has been implemented by SED is “flawed.” He called for creation of a special advisory panel that would recommend “corrective action” to be acted upon by the Legislature before the end of this session.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan, criticized Cuomo’s plan, saying action on Common Core cannot wait any longer.

Last week, senators hammered state Education Commissioner John King over Common Core at a hearing during which they pledged to take action themselves if SED doesn’t do so ASAP.

Silver and Nolan also noted the “persistent questions” and security concerns about SED’s plans to share student data with a private, third-arty vendor charged with setting up a database of this information.

“SED should delay the use of inBloom or any third party vendor in developing a ‘data portal’ until all these questions have been answered and the concerns fully satisfied,” they said.

SED officials announced last month that they had delayed the upload of student data to the Atlanta-based inBloom until at least April, due to technical complications.

Silver Wants Lunar New Year Holiday

Assembly Speaker sheldon Silver, along with Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman ron Kim are pushing a measuere that would recognize the Lunar New Year as an official city holiday.

The measure, if approved, would require city schools be closed for the holiday day, primarily recognized by Asian-Americans.

Lawmakers say the legislation is needed because some schools, especially those in Asian communities, have a high number of absences on the Lunar New Year, which begins on Friday.

“New York City is proud to be one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and it is crucial that we honor and support that diversity,” Silver said in a statement. “In my Lower Manhattan community, where so many of my neighbors celebrate Lunar New Year, tomorrow will be a day of empty classrooms. We must send the message that we value people of all backgrounds, all religions and all cultures. If large numbers of students can’t go to school because of a holiday, they should not have to be marked absent. I want to thank my colleagues Assemblyman Kim and Senator Squadron for their efforts on this issue.”

Las Vegas Union Doubles Down To Keep New York’s MMA Ban

Hours before UFC officials and fighters were scheduled to hold an event at the state Capitol to re-ignite their push to lift the ban on their sport in New York, opponents of that effort beat them to the punch with an email and graphic video that depicted ultimate fighting as both violent and anti-woman and linked it to the spate of sexual harassment scandals that hit the Legislature last year.

“After a year of men behaving badly in Albany, do our lawmakers really want to send a message to parents and communities in New York that we are going to allow a viciously violent sport into the Empire State? Do we really want a sport whose biggest stars have exhibited disgustingly inappropriate behavior towards women and flagrantly used performance-enhancing drugs?” the email asked.

The email included a link to a YouTube video of UFC fighter Anderson Silva breaking his leg in a title fight last year.

It also notes that women’s rights activists have tried without success to get UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson suspended for his degrading behavior toward women – including a mock rape video he posted on-line and several incidents in which he behaved inappropriately toward female reporters while they were trying to interview him.

In addition, the email highlights the decision earlier this month by UFC/MMA champion Georges St-Pierre to take an indefinite leave as Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion due to the sport’s lack of uniform drug testing for mixed martial arts fighters – a policy that he said “bothered me greatly.”

The email was unsigned but it was sent by Metropolitan Public Strategies, which is the consulting firm founded by Neal Kwatra – a former top aide to AG Eric Schneiderman. Kwatra also happens to be the former political director of the New York Hotel Trades Council, an influential union with deep ties in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, where opposition to lifting the MMA ban has prevented the bill from moving forward.

I contacted Kwatra this morning, and he said HTC is not the client he’s representing in this instance. Instead, the interested party is Culinary Local 226 – a local union in Las Vegas that has a long running fight with the majority owners of UFC – Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta – because they happen to also own the Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, which aren’t unionized.

This local Vegas battle has been playing out here in New York for several years, and the MMA bill has been the casualty of that fight.

MMA supporters were hopeful of seeing the legislation move that year – especially since one of its most outspoken opponents, former Assemblyman Bob Reilly, was no longer in office. The UFC said lifting the ban, which has been in place since 1997, would generate some $135 million worth of revenue for the state, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver indicated that it seemed inevitable that MMA would eventually be legal in New York – just like it is now in 49 other states.

But then the sexual harassment scandals started cropping up in the Assembly, increasing the power of the female members of the Democratic conference – including several key lawmakers who are deeply opposed to ultimate fighting.

Now the UFC officials are back in Albany to re-start their campaign to see their sport legalized. They had an event today with fighters, supporters and the bill sponsors – Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Sen. Joe Griffo. They noted that a poll conducted last fall by the Global Strategies Group and commissioned by UFC found support for legalizing MMA in New York is 45-28 percent, and support among those under 45 years old stands at 61-20 percent. When told that MMA is legal in the other 49 states, support among New Yorkers for legalizing it here jumps to 55-32 percent.

“Legal in 49 states. Increases tourism and helps create jobs in the state. Supported by a majority of New Yorkers. Those are the reasons the Governor and Assembly should jump on the bandwagon and finally pass the bill,” siad Ike Lawrence Epstein, senior executive vice president and COO of UFC. “And there’s not a single legitimate reason to keep New York as an outlier in the country and in the world.”

Assembly Approves Women’s Agenda

The Democratic-led Assembly on Monday approved the 10-point package of measures aimed at women as first proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.

The bill was approved 80-36.

But once again, the passage of the measures as a single piece in the state Senate, where Republicans retain some control and blocked a provision that was aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade, remains in doubt.

The Capitol on Monday included a rally for the agenda in the Legislative Office Building, with many lawmakers donning either pink scarves (for women) or pink bow ties (for men) to show their support for the legislation.

In a statement, the women members of the Democratic conference in the Assembly called for the Senate passage of the omnibus.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to pass the package at the beginning of this session, giving constituents across the State the chance to reach out to those Senators who control the State Senate who have blocked this bill from a vote,” the women said in a statement.

The announcement of the 10-point agenda came with much fanfare from Cuomo during his third State of the State address in 2013.

The agenda includes measures aimed at pay equity, curbing human trafficking and housing discrimination as well as the abortion provision.

Opponents of abortion contended the provision went too far and opposed it. But advocates of the agenda last year sought to turn up pressure on the Senate and specifically the Independent Democratic Conference, which is in a power-sharing agreement with the Senate GOP.

In June, Cuomo announced he was breaking the package into 10 separate bills, which were passed piecemeal by the Senate.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein attempted to attach the abortion measure as an amendment to a different bill, but fell short of votes.

This year, Cuomo remains a supporter of the women’s agenda, but it was not a major point of emphasis in his State of the State address.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said earlier this month the abortion plank remained a non-starter for his conference.

Still, abortion advocates and women’s groups remain very much in favor of the entire package and are refocusing their efforts on passing the plan this year.

“The Senate now has the opportunity to take up the Women’s Equality Act in its entirety,” NARAL Pro-Choice’s Andrea Miller. “We strongly encourage the Senate to heed the needs of New York women and the wishes of the voting public, and follow the Assembly’s lead in passing the full 10-point Women’s Equality Act without delay.”

Former Court Of Appeals Judge To Mediate Kellner Appeal

Former Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine was designated on Wednesday the hearing officer to handle the next step of Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s appeal of his punishment for inappropriate behavior directed toward legislative staff, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office announced.

Kellner, in the wake of an Assembly Ethics Committee finding that he violated the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, was sanctioned by Silver. The penalties include stripping him of his unpaid committee chairmanship, barring him from holding future leadership posts and reducing his staff allocation through attrition.

Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat, through a spokesman announced he would appeal the findings of the Ethics Committee, calling their findings flawed, as well as Silver’s sanctions.

An appointee of Gov. Mario Cuomo, Levine served as an associate judge of the state’s highest court from 1993 through 2002.

He is currently a senior counsel to the firm Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna where he handles arbitration, mediation and appellate and commercial litigation.

Accusations that Kellner sexually harassed staff came in June, nearly a month after Assemblyman Vito Lopez resigned his seat in the wake of a Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigation that found he abused legislative aides and violated the public officers’ law.

A third state lawmaker, Democrat Dennis Gabryszak, resigned his seat this month after allegations of sexual harassment were leveled by seven different women.