Assembly Dems: Criminal Justice Reform A Priority

Assembly Democrats are emphasizing a package of a dozen criminal justice reform measures with measures designed to make it easier to obtain bail, enhance the grand jury process and speed up the process of bringing cases to trial.

And the package includes a long-sought goal for Assembly and Senate Democrats: Raising the age of criminal responsibility, removing 16 and 17-year-olds from the criminal court system.

Speaker Carl Heastie at a news conference flanked by advocates and rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday wouldn’t commit to holding up the budget from passing to including the measure, but insisted the policy remains a priority for his conference.

“I don’t want to make declarations, but I’ve expressed to Senator Klein and Senator Flanagan how important raise the age and criminal justice reform is to me, but I haven’t made any declarations,” he said. “It’s a pretty serious issue for me.”

Raising the age has stalled in the Legislature as lawmakers debate how to adjudicate cases involving those between 16 and 17 and whether to send non-violent cases to the family court, which would require a boost in funding.

“We would not want to burden the system,” Heastie said. “We want to have a system that works and if we’re going to ask the family court system to handle these children, then we will have to include the resources.”

The Democratic-controlled chamber began passing the legislation on Monday and are taking up bills throughout the day on Tuesday.

The package also includes reforms to sentencing and wrongful convictions, “ban the box” provisions for employment applications and changes to solitary confinement.

Hikind Urges Schumer To Drop Support For Ellison

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind on Tuesday urged U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to drop his endorsement of Rep. Keith Ellison to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Hikind, a conservative Democrat and Orthodox Jew, cited Ellison’s previous rhetoric on the Nation of Islam.

“Keith Ellison has disqualified himself from becoming the next chair of the DNC,” said Hikind in a statement. “Ellison is the most polarizing choice. Not only are his views radical, but they are divisive. Whether his embracing of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan or his support of the one-sided Goldstone Report, Ellison is clearly not the leader anyone should embrace.”

Hikind has launched an online petition to urge Schumer, who assumed the Senate minority leader post, to rescind the endorsement.

“Senator Schumer, are there no mainstream candidates to lead us?” asked Hikind. “Instead of bringing Democrats together, Ellison will further divide the Party. Senator Schumer, pull the plug on your support for Ellison. He will be a disaster for the Democratic Party,” said Hikind.

Hikind has come under criticism himself after appearing in blackface at a Purim celebration.

Assembly Eyeing Ride Hailing After Break

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie expects his chamber will take up the Democratic conference’s own version of ride hailing legislation after the Legislature’s week off.

Lawmakers will not be in session next week, returning Feb. 28.

The Republican-led Senate previously approved a ride hailing measure that allows apps like Lyft and Uber to operate outside of New York City, imposing a lower tax on hails than the provision included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan.

In the Assembly, the issue has been a trickier one to navigate both insurance regulations as well as the concerns raised by traditional cab companies who have fought the ride hailing measures over the years.

“We’ll still have the meetings particular among the members not from New York City to see what direction we’d like to go,” he said. “There’s a lot of different ideas, a lot of different things to cover.”

Assembly To Take Up Criminal Justice Package

The Democratic-led Assembly over the next two days will take up a package of a dozen bills aimed at reforming the criminal justice system in the state.

The measures include long-sought bills such as raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and enhancing grand jury transparency as well as enshrining a special prosecutor for cases in which civilians die in encounters with police.

“We think the system has been long in need of reform,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in an interview.

The bills face an unlikely path in the Republican-led Senate, where GOP lawmakers have been hesitant to embrace reform measures.

“It’s really about trying to show where the Assembly is,” Heastie said.

Diaz Compares Heastie To Leonidas In Bag Tax Debate

Bronx Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz on Thursday in his latest “What Your Should Know” essays compared Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to the classical Spartan hero King Leonidas in his support for delaying the implementation of a 5-cent fee for bag usage in New York City.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you should know that all of the residents and shoppers in New York City will have some relief for at least one year, and will not have to pay the 5 cents (5¢) per plastic bag while shopping for groceries and other items,” Diaz wrote in the emailed statement. “This is all because then came New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his troops, who like King Leonidas the great Spartan Warrior, who led his 300 hundred warriors against the impossible.”

The essay casts Heastie, a Bronx Democrat like Diaz, in a starkly heroic light over the fee debate in Albany.

“We were all ready to accept this hardship that would be imposed upon senior citizens, the poor and the needy,” Diaz wrote. “And then came Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, showing great compassion and concern not only for senior citizens, the poor and the needy, but for everyone in the City of New York.”

Heastie backed the delay as the fee is set to take effect next week in New York City. The bill, approved this week by both chambers of the Legislature, is now on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, but he is yet to say which direction he will take.

Heastie had expressed reservation with the fee implementation, saying that while he understands the environmental concerns he is also worried of the impact on poor consumers.

Should Cuomo approve the bill, it would effectively kill the surcharge on bags in New York City as it would have been re-approved by a newly elected city Council.

Heastie Acknowledges Tough Vote On Sanctuary State Status

A day after his conference was able to approve a bill that would prevent law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration efforts, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged the vote was a difficult one.

The measure was approved with a two-vote margin.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Heastie pointed to the advantage of having a large majority in the Assembly that allows the Democratic conference to make statements on priorities.

“Some of these votes are tough,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we love to have such a big majority — to be able to get tough votes passed. We wanted to send a message to the world about where we stand, where our hearts are, when it comes to immigration in this state.”

The bill faces little chance of passage in the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said he believed some provisions of the bill are illegal.

Assembly Approves Bag Tax Delay

The Democratic-led Assembly approved a one-year delay in enacting a 5-cent bag tax in New York City and the measure now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is yet to take a public position on the issue.

The measure was previously approved this week by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The bill is the latest delay in enacting the fee in New York City as some lawmakers in the chamber expressed discomfort with its impact on consumers.

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he agreed with the goal of reducing waste, but questioned how poorer New Yorkers would be affected.

“It makes sense to press the pause button on this fee in order to do a more thorough investigation on the best ways to reduce paper and plastic waste in our environment,” Heastie said. “Over the coming months we will work with environmental advocates, community groups, the public, and our partners in government to develop a solution that works for everyone.”

Bag tax sponsor Councilman Brad Lander said he hoped Cuomo would find a way to compromise on the issue and prevent a delay.

“We are disappointed that the Assembly decision to ignore the unified voice of New York’s environmental, climate justice and neighborhood groups — at the very moment the federal government is rolling back environmental protections,” Lander said. “We appeal to Governor Cuomo to help us reach a compromise that would allow New York City to try out this effective, common-sense strategy for dealing with the 10 billion plastic bags that pollute our trees, oceans and landfills every year.”

Heastie Likes Bag Tax Goal, But Worries Over ‘Scary Language’

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted he backs the broader goal of a tax on bags in New York City, but remains concerned over the potential impact on consumers.

Lawmakers this week are set to back legislation that would delay the implementation of the 5-cent fee in New York City, though Heastie wouldn’t rule out reviving a version of the measure after a period of studying the issue.

“We share in the city Council’s goal. We would like to eliminate or lessen the use of plastics and things not good for the environment,” Heastie said. “But we were concerned with how the legislation was crafted. We believe there’s flaws in the legislation.”

A Bronx Democrat, Heastie said there were concerns over the bill including a fee of “at least” five cents for a bag.

“That’s very scary language that you could walk into a business and be charged $5 for a bag,” he said.

Meanwhile, Heastie hopes this second delay will allow the Legislature to “actively engage” with the city Council on the issue.

“We all agree on the goal, but we just feel there are some fundamental flaws in the bill,” he said.

John Ciampoli’s Med Center Appointment Questioned

Veteran Republican election lawyer John Ciampoli’s appointment as the general counsel for the Nassau County Medical Center is being questioned by the Assembly’s chief ethics watchdog.

In a statement, Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Glen Cove Democratic lawmaker, is calling for hearings on the county level to determine why Ciampoli was given the $160,000-a-year post the hospital.

At the same time, Lavine is calling on Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos to investigate the appointment. Lavine alleged the posting was a patronage hire for a prominent election attorney.

“John Ciampoli is a highly respected Republican elections lawyer,” said Lavine. “But our Medical Center, which the County operates at tremendous taxpayer expense and serves as the medical provider for the poor and uninsured, doesn’t need an elections lawyer. NUMC is the last place that our hard-pressed taxpayers need to pay to subsidize and underwrite partisan political patronage.”

Lavine is the co-chairman of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Assembly Turns To DREAM Act

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie this afternoon will rally in support of efforts aimed to bolster immigrants in New York, including the long-stalled DREAM Act.

The rally will be held at 1:15 at the Million Dollar Staircase at the Capitol.

The measure includes tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants, a bill that has stalled in the Legislature, but has been pushed over the years by Democratic legislators.

Renewed support for the bill from the Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending proposal comes amid a broader response to the immigration policies of Donald Trump’s administration.

Democratic lawmakers have signaled plans to back a variety of Trump-countering moves in the state, including providing legal assistance to immigrants who are impacted by the federal government’s three-month ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

At the same time, mainline Senate Democrats have pushed a “resistance” agenda that seeks to undermine state cooperation with Trump’s travel ban.

Opposition to the DREAM Act in New York has been a political tool for Senate Republicans, who have run on their opposition to the bill.