Taxi Group Knocks Draft Ride Hailing Legislation

The consortium of livery and taxi companies on Tuesday knocked draft legislation for the expansion of ride-hailing services outside of New York City.

The bill, as reported this morning by Politico New York, would allow local governments control over whether to allow apps like Uber and Lyft to operate.

But the Upstate Transportation Association pointed to the proposed measure lacking fingerprint background checks for potential drivers.

“This bill is a non-starter because it doesn’t even include the basic passenger protections already provided in New York City,” said John Tomassi, the president of the Upstate Transportation Association. “That clear disregard for public safety shows that Uber’s corporate office must have had a hand in writing the bill. Upstate riders deserve to be just as safe as New York City riders – and that means requiring fingerprint background checks for every ridesharing driver statewide.”

The bill could be a provision approved in a special session of the Legislature to be held sometime before the end of the year, but lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are yet to strike framework agreements that could bring both chambers back before January.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday in Albany indicated he would be open to ride hailing in a special session, but said he wanted safety precautions built into the bill.

Democrat Calls For Further Review Of Nojay Case

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic candidate who ran for the seat held by the late Assemblyman Bill Nojay on Monday called for a further investigation into what would have been the Republican lawmaker’s corruption case.

A criminal complaint unsealed Monday included the accusation from federal law enforcement that Nojay allegedly siphoned $800,000 from a client’s escrow account.

Some of this money also allegedly went toward his campaign, a lobbyist, a car dealer, his children and also to pay property taxes on his house.

Nojay committed suicide the morning he was expected in court.

“I am shocked and outraged for the voters and myself,” said Barbara Baer, the ex-Assembly candidate who sought the seat. “Had this indictment been unsealed earlier I would have won.”

Nojay posthumously won a Republican primary and was replaced with GOP former Assemblyman Joe Errigo. He defeated Baer in the general election.

“I ran this year because I thought it was important to have a debate and 2-party representation,” Baer said in the statement. “Tragically Mr. Nojay committed suicide and the ‘three men in a room’ urged voters to vote for a dead man. The bosses then chose Mr. Errigo, who after our first quasi-debate, disappeared.”

She added more investigation of the Nojay case is warranted, considering it raises further questions.

“What did the Republican Party know and when did they know it?” she asked. “Who was the lobbyist? Was the school construction authority being investigated? What is the real story here?”

Heastie Says He’s Open To Ride Hailing Legislation In Special

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie signaled he would be open to a bill that would expand ride hailing options outside of New York City, but urged conditions such as safety for drivers and passengers.

The bill could come up in a special session of the Legislature within the next two weeks, thought it’s unclear if lawmakers will be able to scheduled one in time before the start of the year.

Lawmakers may reconvene this month in a session that would potentially lead to the first pay raise for the Legislature in nearly a generation, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for the ride hailing measure to be considered.

“It’s being discussed and I know there’s an ad campaign going on out there,” Heastie said of the ride hailing issue. “For us in the Assembly, it’s not just about allowing it to happen. There’s other things that have to be looked at — that drivers are safe, that people are safe, potential passengers are safe and I think some of that is getting lost in the debate. We’d love to have ride sharing in all parts of the state and we’re looking to get it done.”

The issue is a complex one from an insurance standpoint and talks broke done earlier this year for a statewide regulator framework.

“I think if people are willing to be flexible and compromise, I think it can happen,” Heastie said. “But if people just believe their position is what it has to be, I don’t believe we can get there.”

Similarly, the potential for a property tax reduction component in a special session is also up in the air.

The tax issue was Cuomo’s idea, Heastie said.

“He has this idea that he wants to do savings, but there are some concerns on that,” he said. “We’re trying to see if it can work and fit, but if it doesn’t we have to move on.”

As for the chances of a special session?

“I don’t gamble,” Heastie said, “so I don’t like to give odds.”

Heasite Reiterates: No Trades

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in Albany for the state’s electoral college vote, insisted to reporters on Monday there were no trades on legislative issues in exchange for a salary increase for lawmakers.

But should lawmakers hold a special session before the end of the year, it would pave the way for the first pay increase for lawmakers since 1998.

It’s possible lawmakers could return to take up a package of measures that include the expansion of ride hailing outside of New York City and funding for affordable housing and a hate crimes task force.

At the same time, the Legislature could also take up the re-authorization of a pay commission that would back a pay hike for the Legislature and members of the governor’s cabinet.

“It’s really about are we going to come back and do the work for the people of the state of New York,” Heastie said. “That’s the most important. If the pay raise commission is part of that, so be it. It’s not a trade, we’re not making trades. We’re coming back to do the business of the people of the state of New York.”

His comments came after a walk-and-talk gaggle with reporters as Heastie headed into the Senate chamber to cast his vote in the electoral college. He exited the Senate lobby to reiterate his opposition to linking issues in a special session.

Lawmakers could also take up an issue Gov. Andrew Cuomo has referenced, vaguely, in the last few days: Property taxes.

Heastie confirmed those talks on property taxes are underway, though the details remained murky.

“The governor brought it up and we’re discussing it, but I don’t know what if anything gets us to a special session,” Heastie said.

Details have been scarce, similarly, on when lawmakers may be back in next two weeks. Heastie said he and Cuomo spoke earlier today.

“We’re talking, we’re trying to see if we can do things that are important that have to be done before the end of the year,” Heastie said.

Santabarbara Launches Online Petition For Ride Hailing Expansion

Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara on Thursday announced he is launching an online petition aimed at drumming up support for expanding ride-hailing services through apps like Lyft and Uber.

The petition launch is the latest one being produced by a state lawmaker as the Legislature has the potential to reconvene before the end of the year to take up the issue.

But even if a special session appears increasingly unlikely, ride hailing supporters and opponents are gearing up for a extensive lobbying campaign on the issue.

“Smart investments to improve infrastructure with 21st century engineering and technology will ensure the future success of upstate communities – but this work is just the beginning,” Santabarbara said. “Our upstate communities must be as accessible as possible. Bringing ride-sharing services to our area helps ensure easy and convenient travel options for local residents, workers and students, and can encourage even more visitors to come and take part in all we have to offer.”

His push also comes with the support of new Rivers Casino, set to open in Schenectady next year.

“With Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady ready to open its doors on February 8th, expanding access to ride-sharing can make a big difference for both residents and regional visitors in traveling in the upstate area,” said Mary Cheeks, General Manager of Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady.

Assembly Health Chair Raises Concerns With Trump Impact

The longtime chairman of the Assembly Health Committee on Wednesday released a lengthy essay on the potential impacts on health-care policy by the incoming Donald Trump presidential administration.

Those concerns raised by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, range from the new federal administration gutting medical marijuana laws on the state level, scaling back benefits for Medicaid recipients and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which could blow a $2 billion hole in the state budget.

“The first step in stopping or reversing these attacks is to clearly understand what’s at stake and spread the word,” Gottfried wrote in the statement released by his office. “There is hardly anything more rigged against working people than health care. The Trump-Republican agenda will make it worse.

Gottfried’s solution to bolster health care in New York under Trump is his long-stalled proposal for universal coverage in New York through a single-payer system.

“Instead of regressive premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network charges, it would be funded fairly through broad-based taxes based on ability to pay,” Gottfried wrote. “The Assembly passed the bill in 2015 and 2016 – helping to move it from being “a great idea that could never happen” to something really achievable. In 2017, we will continue to work to build public support so it can ultimately pass the Senate.”

Assembly Dems Told To Keep Next Week Open

Lawmakers in the Democratic conference in the Assembly have been told to keep next week open for a potential special session in Albany.

There’s no firm word either way, however, whether such a session — which could pave the way for the first legislative pay increase since 1998 — will actually occur.

The conference spent several days at the Capitol this week huddling, renominating Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie for the speakership in the chamber.

Heastie over the last several days has said he is unsure if a special session will be held and the conference has raised issues with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for term limits and a full-time Legislature that bans outside income.

Cuomo has called on lawmakers to also approve funding for affordable housing and a hate crimes task force as well as back changes to the state’s oversight of the procurement process.

Heastie: Still No Decision On Special Session

Assembly Democrats met for the second straight day in Albany on Tuesday, but there was still no word on whether the full Legislature will convene later this month in a session that could clear the way for a legislative pay increase.

“The governor and I communicate quite frequently. Senator Flanagan, I didn’t speak to yesterday, but we continue to talk,” Heastie said. “But I don’t know about the prospects of a special session.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is prodding lawmakers to back first passage of a pair of constitutional amendments that would set term limits for state elected officials and create a full-time Legislature that bans outside income.

Cuomo also wants lawmakers to take up a series of issues that range from funding affordable housing and a hate crimes task force to overhauling how procurement procedures are conducted.

The latter issue is potentially a tricky one of the Assembly: Lawmakers in the wake of charges in a bid rigging and bribery case that has ensnared a former close aide to the governor, Joe Percoco, sought changes to procurement that would restore some of the power of the state comptroller, who has been at odds with Cuomo.

The governor, meanwhile, wants to create a chief procurement officer within his own office to oversee contracting.

“Some things are best left until the entire body is here so we can look at these things and procurement is one of those things that we need to look at when the entire Legislature is on hand,” Heastie said.

Heastie Renominated To Serve As Speaker

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was renominated on Tuesday to serve as speaker of the chamber by the Democratic majority.

He was unopposed for the position within the conference and will almost certainly be re-elected speaker in the Assembly, where the Democrats enjoy a large 100-member advantage.

“I am truly humbled and grateful that my Democratic colleagues have once again chosen me to lead our Assembly Majority conference in our shared mission of putting families first,” Heastie said. “It is my profound privilege to work alongside them in serving the citizens and families of our great state. As one of the most diverse Legislative bodies in the nation, we stand united with people from all different creeds and backgrounds in the pursuit of a brighter, more hopeful future.”

Heastie was elected speaker in 2015, succeeding Sheldon Silver, one of the longest serving speakers in the state’s history. Silver stepped down from the post after he was indicted on corruption charges which he was later found guilty of, forcing his removal from his Assembly seat.

Heastie has for the last several weeks been at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as talk over a potential December session of the Legislature continues, which could pave the way for the first legislative pay increase since 1998.

“As we enter the 2017 session, the Assembly Majority will reaffirm its commitment to building bridges to economic opportunity for all New Yorkers,” Heastie said. “We will make sure our state remains the gateway to educational achievement that it has always been. We will fight to ensure our most vulnerable populations are protected. And we will continue to defend constitutionally protected freedoms such as civil rights and access to reproductive choice.”

Assembly Dems Meet In Albany, Door Open To Special Session

Democrats in the state Assembly huddled on Monday for nearly two hours, with Speaker Carl Heastie emerging at the Capitol to open the door to a special session before the end of the year that could pave the way for the first legislative pay increase in nearly 20 years.

“I’m not sure if there’s going to be a special session,” Heastie said following the closed-door conference.

But he quickly added: “But it will be irresponsible for myself and Senator Flanagan and the governor to not discuss issues that we may need to deal with before the end of the year that we need to deal with for the people of the state of New York.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing lawmakers to take up a package of measures including reforming the procurement process, funding affordable housing and a hate crimes task force. He also wants lawmakers to back two constitutional amendments that would set term limits and create a full-time Legislature that bans outside income. Lawmakers say they do not want passage of these measures linked to a pay increase.

“I’ve said it clearly,” Heastie said. “We’re not doing something that’s going to be harmful to the members of the Assembly in exchange for pay raises.”

And those ethics reforms face hurdles, especially when it comes to term limits in the Assembly.

“I don’t think term limits on going to be on the table,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle. “I think, look, I don’t think we’re going to rush into any restructuring of state government or the responsbilities of the legislators in an end of the year session.”

Members of the state Assembly and Senate earn a base salary of $79,500

Lawmakers have also been frustrated with a pay commission they say was formed to take the politics out of the decision, similar to the effort to hike the salaries for state judges.

“I think that objective people looking at the salary and compensation would make the determination that it’s long overdue,” said Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat. “That people under the control of the governor would go on there and say that, it’s not really helpful.”

Heastie, meanwhile, all but ruled out the possibility of simply passing a pay hike and daring the governor to sign or veto the bill, which could lead to a rare legislative override.

“I think in this world,” he said, “it’s always better to have agreements.”