After ‘Genocide’ Charge, Assembly Abortion Debate Grows Heated

An usually heated debate on Tuesday erupted in the Assembly, where lawmakers debated a measure that would codify the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in state law.

The conversation grew tense when Republican Assemblyman Ron Castorina referred to abortion “African-American genocide.”

“This chamber likes to look at things through the prism of race and gender all the time,” Castorina said after the debate. “But when it’s inconvenient, when I brought up an issue through the prism of race, that’s insulting?”

The remark drew an immediate rebuke from supporters of abortion rights as well as black lawmakers in the chamber, while charges of racism were lobbed at Castorina.

“To connect genocide to an abortion question was absolutely ridiculous,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “There was too much hypocrisy, racism, interjected into this. How are you going to single out black women? It got out of hand because he was out of control and out of his mind.”

The debate became one of the most contentious moments on the floor of the Assembly in recent years and, coming in the final days of the legislative session, when lawmakers from both parties are eager to return home.

Some Democratic lawmakers even walked out of the chamber after Castorina’s remarks after he declined to yield the floor to Democrats during the debate.

“I would have to literally walk outside of the chamber because of the statements that were made, just to compose myself,” said Assemblywoman Diana Richardson.

Assembly Republicans, however, jeered the accusation the genocide comment was a racist one to make.

“If he just wants to sit here and malign other members,” said Assemblyman Al Graf after Barron spoke, “I would suggest he sit down.”

The debate became so tense that it drew out Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who monitored the conversation at different areas around the chamber. As the lengthy conversation wore on, Heastie spoke with Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who also made a rare appearance on the floor of the chamber.

At one point, Castorina was about to speak again on the bill, drawing groans from Democrats, who hold a large advantage in the chamber. Kolb walked to Castorina’s desk on the floor of the Assembly and spoke to him briefly. Castorina then declined to speak.

The measure is aimed at strengthening abortion rights in New York, aligning the state with the federal court ruling and had been part of the 10-point women’s agenda. That package of bills had been approved and signed into law, save for the contentious abortion provision, which has stalled amid Republican opposition in the Senate.

“This debate, if nothing else, should me why this legislation is necessary in New York — that women’s rights and our reproductive rights and our health is at risk in the state of New York,” said Assemblywoman Didi Barrett.

In an interview after the three-hour long debate, Castorina stood by the genocide comments that sparked the heated conversation.

“I believe in the sanctity of life and I will always defend it,” he said, “because the unborn do not have voice.”

The bill ultimately passed 88 to 44, but it stands little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, where typically measures aimed at strengthening abortion rights have been contentious.

Uber Mailer Touts Upstate Support

From the Morning Memo:

Uber believe it’s already won a popularity contest in upstate New York, now it just needs state lawmakers to go along.

The company has released a second mailer in its campaign to bring its service to upstate New York, touting the support among voters and locally elected officials of bringing ride hailing services north of New York City.

“Over 450 cities throughout the world have Uber, but none of them are in Upstate New York. We’re getting closer to bringing ridesharing to your community – now’s the time for Albany to act,” the mailer states.

In addition to touting the endorsements from mayors and other local officials, Uber’s mailer provides a list of groups supportive of ride hailing, as well as editorial pages backing the expansion.

The mailer, as did the first one, urges recipients to call their member of the state Assembly to back a ride-hailing bill.

The move comes as lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand the service through allowing for the purchase of insurance. It is not expected to include a regulatory framework for New York City, where ride hailing is regulated by the Taxi and Livery Commission.

UBER%20NY-2016%20MAILER%202-FINAL.pdf by Nick Reisman

Heastie: Concerns With The Plastic Bag Fee

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie didn’t rule out taking action on New York City’s five-cent surcharge for plastic bags, saying some members of the Democratic conference have expressed concern with the measure that passed last month.

“I think there’s a concern among particularly the Assembly members who represent the city, on the language that’s in the city Council bill,” Heastie told reporters after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.”So we are looking at it. We’ve been in discussions with the city Council and the mayor  to see if we can push this off to having a better discussion. But there are concerns among the city members.”

A group of state lawmakers, including Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, have introduced a bill that would block the fee on plastic bags, which is set to take effect in October.

Supporters of the plastic bag fee say it’s designed to cut down on environmentally harmful waste and surcharges in other cities have worked better than outright bans. But opponents contend the plastic bag fee is essentially a regressive tax on consumers.

McLaughlin: ‘Reverse Racism’ to Blame for Hoosick Falls Water Mess

From the Morning Memo:

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican whose district includes Hoosick Falls, continued to rail against his legislative colleagues for failing to address the community’s water contamination crisis, saying residents there would get more attention if they were minorities living downstate.

A clearly frustrated McLaughlin said he believes “reverse racism” is to blame for the fact that the downstate-dominated and Democrat-controlled Assembly has refused to hold hearings on how the dangerous chemical PFOA ended up in Hoosick Falls’ drinking water and how long the state knew about the situation but declined to do anything about it.

“I will state that I believe that if this took place in Brooklyn, or the Bronx, or down in Queens or somewhere else in New York City that (the Rev.) Al Sharpton and company would be marching in the streets,” McLaughlin said during a Capital Tonight interview last night. “But this is a bunch of upstate people in a rural, remote area, and apparently they don’t count.”

“…They count to me, they matter to me. I want answers. But I would want those same answers if this was taking place in Arbor Hill, or this was taking place in a black community. It doesn’t matter to me what color the votes are.”

The assemblyman didn’t let his fellow Republicans who control the Senate off the hook, either, noting that chamber is run by a Long Islander, John Flanagan, who has also so far declined to heed McLaughlin’s call for hearings.

McLaughlin’s comments came on the heels of a POLITICO New York report that found the Cuomo administration resisted alerting Hoosick Falls residents about the presence of unsafe PFOA levels in their water, even as the EPA insisted that should be done.

According to information obtained by POLITICO’s Scott Waldman through a FOIL request, state health officials told federal regulators they had been monitoring the situation for a year, but didn’t want to “alarm people” by going public with an alert. They also said their differences with the EPA over a safe and acceptable level of contamination was a matter of “philosophy,” not science.

McLaughlin is now calling for a federal investigation into the matter, likening the Hoosick Falls mess to the Flint, Michigan lead contamination water crisis, which gained national attention and resulted in indictments of public officials.

The governor yesterday dismissed the POLITICO story as “a whole political he said, she said,” insisting that he doesn’t know how the state could have been “more aggressive” in addressing the Hoosick Falls matter.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, left the door open for possible hearings in the future, saying: “I still think the main thing is to make sure that the people in Hoosick Falls and around the state are having clean drinking water. And if we still feel the need to look at it through hearings we can do that.”

Lawmakers Look To Next Week For Fantasy Sports Bill

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are nearing an agreement this month to pave the way for allowing daily fantasy sports in New York, months after a legal challenge sidelined popular websites FanDuel and DraftKings.

Different bills in the Senate and Assembly are expected to be reconciled soon.

“Although they’re not the same, then we will close with them,” Sen. John Bonacic said. “Our differences are minor as far as I’m concerned and I do believe we’ll have an agreed upon bill by next week.”

Opponents of gambling expansion in the state pushed back Thursday, saying such a move is about generating revenue so lawmakers can avoid raising taxes.

“They’re unwilling to raise taxes and they look for alternative sources of revenue,” said Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick. “That’s what this has become.”

Opponents like Fitzpatrick say allowing fantasy sports is a harmful decision as more gambling options sprout up around the state, including four casinos now under construction.

“They love sports and they evidently want to bet,” Fitzpatrick said. “There will be serious casualties to this.”

But the biggest push back hasn’t come from the under-funded gambling opponents, but operators of racinos, who had initially wanted fantasy sports to operate out of their facilities.

“I was quite surprised by it because we’ve had fantasy sports around for 10 years and the racinos have never said a word about it,” Bonacic said.

The New York Gaming Association has deployed lobbyists and an online campaign in recent days to attempt to kill the fantasy sports bill. Senator John Bonacic says allowing fantasy sports bets shouldn’t infringe on the money generated by racinos.

“Fantasy sports is very small compared to the racinos,” Bonacic said, adding, “There are six states now that have fantasy sports and not one of them are tied into a gambling institution.”

Should fantasy sports be allowed, the bill would resolve a legal battle started last year by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who argued the service is essentially a game of chance, outlawed by the constitution.

Competing Ride Hailing Bills In Senate, Assembly

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led Assembly have competing versions of a bill that would accomplish the same goal: Bringing ride-hailing or ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft north of New York City.

The Senate Insurance Committee approved its own ride hailing bill on Wednesday, a move that coincided with the return of the panel’s chairman, Sen. James Seward.

The return of Seward, who underwent cancer surgery, is key for an agreement, considering he is the main sponsor of the legislation in his chamber.

In a statement, Seward said his ride-hailing measure if approved would “lead to economic, environmental and safety benefits.”

But the differences of the bill will have to be ironed out with the Assembly, where the bill is carried by Insurance Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill.

Both proposals would allow for insurance purchases, but not regulated New York City’s current ride-sharing system, which is overseen by the Taxi and Livery Commission.

“I think there’s differences in the legislation now,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “A bill’s been introduced and it will start to go through the process and we’ll see what happens.”

Heastie didn’t rule out changes to reach an agreement, as expanding the services upstate is being opposed by taxi companies that face stiff competition from apps offered by Lyft or Uber.

“This just handles the insurance portion,” he said. “Bills get introduced and sometimes when they get negotiated with the Senate, there are changes and amendments. I’m not saying we’re there yet.”

Republicans Urge Assembly Action On Anti-Heroin Bills

A group of Republican state lawmakers Wednesday urged the Democratic-led Assembly to take action on measures designed to combat heroin and opioid addiction before the legislative session concludes on June 16.

“There are people dying out there,” said Republican Assemblyman Al Graf. T”here are families being destroyed. Now is not the time to play political games.”

The Senate previously approved a package of bills recommended by a task force formed last year to study and hold hearings on the issue. The measure address a variety of concerns that have arisen from heroin addiction in communities across the state, ranging from treatment options to prevention as well as more traditional law enforcement efforts to net drug dealers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has created his own task force, holding listening events around the state in order to form a series of recommendations that could be acted on this month.

The issue hasn’t been a partisan one, either, with Republicans altering their traditional law rhetoric on expanding law enforcement alone to combat drug abuse by also calling for an expansion of insurance coverage to include treatment accessibility.

GOP lawmakers on Wednesday made a special emphasis on passing a measure that would place additional felony charges on drug dealers.

“This is not a drug dealing problem alone,” said Republican Sen. George Amedore. “This is not a drug addiction alone. This is the ultimate public health issue of New York state and it’s a crisis.”

In one of the more moving — and genuine — moments at the Capitol, Assembly Minority Brian Kolb spoke emotionally about the death of a legislative aide’s brother.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of our prime duties as a Legislature and also the governor is to protect its very citizens that occupy the boundaries of our great state,” Kold said. “We shouldn’t be here if we can’t do anything in the next nine days.”

Assembly DFS Bill Now In Committee

From the Morning Memo:

The Assembly’s proposal to regulate daily fantasy sports in New York would create a multi-tiered system for contests both big and small.

The bill, introduced Friday night, is expected to be considered as part of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee’s agenda this week, according to the panel’s chairman and sponsor, Democrat Gary Pretlow of Mount Vernon.

Lawmakers had vowed to consider legislation that would regulate fantasy sports betting in New York after a legal challenge last year was filed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against the major operators, alleging their business was essentially a game of chance outlawed by the state’s constitution.

In the end, fantasy sports companies agreed to suspend operations while state lawmakers weighed regulations for fantasy sports.

Lawmakers sought in part to introduce a bill that would prevent some players from taking advantage of the system through multiple accounts and address the traditional concerns over gambling.

“Bearing in mind that interactive fantasy sports contests of any variety have the potential to produce unfair advantages for certain players, target minors, and increase problem gambling, this bill seeks to regulate all forms of interactive fantasy sports – paid and free, and daily and season-long,” the bill’s memo states.

“This bill offers important consumer protections to ensure that all contests are safe and fair.”

The bill would provide for three-year licenses of daily fantasy sports companies based on revenue — a move designed to include smaller operators of daily fantasy sports betting, not just the large firms like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Initial registration fees would range from $25,000 to $100,000, with renewal fees as low as $5,000.

Those under 18 would be prohibited from playing daily fantasy sports. Similarly, fantasy betting could not take place for sporting events on the high school or collegiate level.

Players would be limited to one active account and they would be limited to the number of entries they can make per each contest.

For the moment, there does not appear to be a smae-as version of the bill, which is expected to be introduced by Sen. John Bonacic.

Assembly Approves Expanded Med Mar Legislation

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday backed a pair of bills that would expand access under the state’s fledgling medical marijuana program.

For the sponsors, including Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, the measures take the existing system and “bring the law closer to the original bill as passed by the Assembly and supported by patients and their doctors.”

One bill would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients in the medical marijuana program and prescribe drugs manufactured with cannabis.

“Patients in need should not be denied access to critical medication just because they are treated by a PA or NP,” Gottfriend said.

A second bill passed by the Assembly would create a public list of the 600 or so physicians who are registered to certify patients in the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers say medical marijuana-eligible patients have taken to cold calling doctors in the hopes of finding one who can prescribe the drug.

The medical marijuana program was created after the passage of a 2014 law that provides for a tightly regulated program and limits the number of patients eligible to those with terminal illnesses or severe cognitive issues. Lawmakers have in previously expansion efforts to sought to include more illnesses under the medical marijuana program.

Time Running Short For Any Ethics Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The clock on the legislative session is winding down, and yet there’s been little to no public progress made on ethics or campaign finance reform in Albany. Lawmakers say it’s getting late in the year to reach a deal.

“I would say right now my optimism is low because we’ve had the entire session here to do something specific,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Time is running short in Albany, with 9 legislative session days to go before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the rest of the year and focus, in most cases, on running for re-election.

But signs of any agreement on ethics reform, at least for now, appear elusive.

In the state Senate, lawmakers are at odds over proposals to ban unlimited donations from limited liability companies. A bill that would have done so was bottled up in a committee earlier in May.

“I never say never, otherwise why would I get up in the morning and come back here so, there’s always room for hope and a chance,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. “I’ve continuously said all year why are we wasting the crisis of corruption? Why aren’t we fixing ourselves?”

In the Assembly, meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to strip corrupt officials of their pensions was approved last year, but that version differs from what was passed by the Senate. Lawmakers there are growing frustrated the amendment will ever pass.

“There’s several version of pension forfeiture bills out there,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “I’m at the point now where any of them is better than doing none of them. It may be one that is yet to be even drafted.”

For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans a roll out of ethics reform bills over the next several days. He released eight different versions of a bill to close the LLC loophole on Tuesday.

“We’ll talk about income limits. We’ll talk independence,” Cuomo said. “Then we’ll talk about term limits, but we have a full agenda.”