McLaughlin Says He’s Being Unfairly Targeted

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is the latest state lawmaker to face accusations of sexual harassment, sanctioned on Wednesday by Speaker Carl Heastie after he was accused of asking a legislative aide for nude photos, lying about it and leaking her name.

“I didn’t do that,” he said in an interview with Spectrum News. “I never revealed a thing. They have no proof that I did, because I did not. It appears to be a political hit.”

The findings released Wednesday that led to the sanctions were endorsed by the bipartisan Assembly Ethics Committee — four Democrats and four Republicans. McLaughlin says the panel is really controlled by Democrats and that he was targeted for being an outspoken Republican.

“Who’s been the most vocal person in the Assembly for the past seven years? That’s me,” he said. “Who’s stood up for their constituents like nobody else? Me.”

McLaughlin on Wednesday released a letter sent by his lawyer to Albany County District David Soares, taking issue with how the Assembly’s ethics panel handled the complaint against him. He also released a sworn statement denying the accusations.

Soares’s office confirmed the letter was received, but declined to comment further.

“I will be forwarding you additional material in the immediate future, and would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you regarding the matter,” wrote McLaughlin’s attorney, Karl Sleight, in the letter dated Oct. 31. “In the interim, please maintain this information as highly confidential, consistent with the statute, until such time as your investigation has been completed.”

The allegations against McLaughlin date back to 2016. At the time, the ethics committee recommended sensitivity training for McLaughlin and ultimately sent him a letter in June of this year saying there was no finding of a violation but warning him against any retaliation.

This month, the committee determined McLaughlin had lied in his denial of the allegations and that he released the name of the woman — a move the committee fears could lead other people to not come forward with allegations of their own. McLaughlin is the eighth lawmaker from both parties in the last 11 years to be accused of sexual harassment or misconduct in the Assembly.

“I’d like to think we are making strides ahead and I’m quite body in light of these recent findings,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, a Democrat from the Albany area. “It was a strong bipartisan statement.”

In the last five years, the Assembly has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside investigators to review harassment claims.

“We are trying to send a message and you’re seeing the media send that message as well and it’s that harassment and hostile work environments will not be tolerated,” Fahy said.

McLaughlin will take office as Rennselaer County executive in January.

FINAL Letter to DA Soares Re Possible Violation of CRL 73(8) 10.31.17 (HBROC-3237944 v1) (1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd

McLaughlin Sanctioned For Sexual Harassment Complaint

Outgoing Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned on Tuesday by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, accused of asking a legislative staffer to see nude photos of her, leaking the name of the woman and then lying about it, making him the latest in a line of state lawmakers to be accused of inappropriate behavior in Albany.

McLaughlin denies the allegations.

The sanctions, backed by the Assembly Ethics Committee earlier this month, stem from a 2016 sexual harassment complaint leveled against the lawmaker by a female staffer.

McLaughlin is accused of making “lewd comments” to the woman that included asking to see naked photographs of her, according to the complaint and documents released by Heastie’s office Tuesday morning.

Initially, the Assembly Ethics Committee last year was deadlocked on whether to sanction the lawmaker and recommended he take sexual harassment training. He was sanctioned on Tuesday after the committee determined McLaughlin lied about the circumstances of the situation while also leaking information about the allegations by revealing the name of his accuser.

“This violation led down the road to further disclosures within the Assembly, the Senate and elsewhere,” a letter from the Ethics Committee to Heastie released Tuesday stated. “As a result, multiple people are aware of the name of the target of the sexual harassment, as well as the details of the sexual harassment, which involved being asked for nude photographs.”

Releasing the name of the woman could have “long-term ramifications” for other people to step forward and provide claims of harassment and abuse.

In an interview with Fred Dicker’s Focus On The State Capitol radio show, McLaughlin insisted he was innocent and had a letter from Heastie initially clearing him of wrongdoing.

He also said he had complained through a lawyer to Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

“This is a political witch hunt and I am not lying down taking it,” McLaughlin said. “As a matter of fact, my attorney wrote a letter to David Soares, he’s in possession of a letter, talking about the civil rights violations I’m enduring from this so-called Assembly Ethics Committee.”

McLaughlin, a staunch critic of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo who had mulled running against him in 2014, said he was being targeted “for being an outspoken Republican.”

The determination to sanction McLaughlin was backed by all eight members of the Ethics Committee, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The sanctions include a letter of admonishment to McLaughlin and that he cease releasing the name of the legislative aide.

McLaughlin was elected Rensselaer County executive earlier this month and is leaving the Legislature at the end of the year.

McLaughlin is the latest state lawmaker to face allegations of sexual harassment, a wave that began in 2012 with accusation against then-powerful Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez, ultimately sweeping up other lawmakers from both parties. Earlier this month, Sam Hoyt, a former state assemblyman and top economic development official in the Cuomo administration, was fired after he was accused of sexual harassment by a state employee.

11-27-17 letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Smyth Concedes To McLaughlin In Executive Race

Democrat Andrea Smyth on Tuesday conceded to Republican Steve McLaughlin in the race for Rensselaer County executive a week after Election Day showed him narrowly leading her in the vote count.

Elections officials in the county for the last several days had counted absentee ballots, but Smyth concluded Tuesday she was too far behind to catch up to McLaughlin’s total.

“I’m so grateful to the people of Rensselaer County for everything that they’ve done for supporting me and turning out for me and the well wishes of the last few days,” Smyth told Spectrum News. “But we really were not gaining any ground and I think the results will stand.”

McLaughlin, who had previously declared victory last week, is taking the helm of the county after a tumultuous Republican primary against Deputy County Executive Chris Meier. He is a staunch critic of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has considered in the past running for governor himself.

Speaker To Speaker, Heastie Writes To Ryan

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Thursday wrote his counterpart in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, to oppose the GOP-led tax reform efforts.

“The Assembly Majority has long been committed to fighting for policies and tax structures that put Families First,” Heastie said.

“Speaker Ryan has touted that the plan will help Americans bring home bigger paychecks. However, hardworking New Yorkers would experience quite the opposite. It is very clear to us and many other leaders across the state that these proposals would have a significant and unfair economic impact on middle-income families in New York.”

In particular, Heastie pointed to the proposal to either cap or eliminate the deduction of state and local taxes, a move that would have impacts for high-tax states like New York.

State officials from both parties have raised issues with the end to the SALT deduction.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has raised objections to Ryan directly. He spoke with the speaker one on one at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York City earlier this month, telling reporters on Monday he had raised concerns with the SALT deduction proposal.

Sp Kr Ryan Letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Quart Knocks Gravity Knife Veto

Assemblyman Dan Quart on Tuesday in a statement knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto a bill that would have banned gravity knives.

Cuomo issued the veto of the bill on Monday evening citing concerns over the broadly written language of the bill. Cuomo’s veto also stated a compromise measure had been proposed in the final days of the session, but lawmakers and the governor could not reach an agreement that would have also protected the legitimate use of knives by laborers.

It is the second time gravity knife legislation has been vetoed.

In a statement, Quart called the veto “a dark mark on our legislative process.”

“New Yorkers, especially in the borough of Manhattan, face the continuation of discriminatory arrests and prosecutions thanks to unjust opposition in Albany. Communities of color will have no relief from the Manhattan District Attorney’s pattern of prosecuting poor people for possessing this simple work tool,” he said.

“Make no mistake, this veto will have real life consequences for New York families. Electricians, plumbers, laborers and many more have shared their stories of ending up with a criminal record or in Rikers Island due to carrying a work tool they bought in a local hardware store. We could have prevented these results and put an end to these discriminatory prosecutions.”

Lawmakers: Concerns Over Funding Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers in the state Assembly this month raised concerns with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office over what’s known as naturally occurring retirement communities over state funding being denied to various programs.

The communities are where there are large numbers of people living there who are older than 60, but have not been specifically planned to meet the needs of older people living independently in their homes.

The communities that have faced funding issues from the state Office for the Aging include seven in New York City and two upstate communities, including Rochester.

“It is our understanding that state-wide, a number of well-established NORC grants have been denied for various, minute reasons while three new programs were approved,” the lawmakers wrote.

“This will have a harmful impact on the services these NORC programs offer to their respective communities. Notably, of the only three existing NORC programs in Upstate New York, two were denied funding, leaving the region grossly underserved.”

Lawmakers say $6 million was initially allocated to state budget for programs that benefit the communities, but just over half, $3.4 million, has been awarded by the Office for the Aging so far.

“This difference is likely due to NYSOFA’s decision to fund only 23 NORC programs, down from the 29 programs they funded previously,” the letter states. “If the 9 existing NORC programs are not funded, undoubtedly the residents will end up in nursing homes which will end up costing the state more in funding.”

2017-10-19 Letter to Comptroller DiNapoli NORC by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Nolan Plans To Protect Education Funding

From the Morning Memo:

If the state has to make spending reductions as a result of federal funding cuts to health care, it should not look to its other largest area of investment – education aid – as a target, a top Democratic assemblywoman warns.

During a Capital Tonight interview last night, Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan recognized the “triple threat” faced by the state, financially speaking, at the moment: Lower than expected PIT revenues, a $4 billion deficit and the feds planning to do “who knows what” when it comes to health care reform.

“They may come after health, which is the other big pocket, so to speak in the budget,” the Queens Democrat said. “It’s my job to make sure that education is protected if there is an attempt to perhaps look at the education field to solve other problems.”

Nolan stopped short of saying that she’s drawing a line in the sand when it comes to her stand on leaving education spending alone.

“I’m not a line-in-the-sand-drawer,” the assemblywoman said. “I don’t draw every well, and I never get to the beach, so I don’t draw a lot of lines in the sand.”

“But I think that it is important to make the case, and remind people, first of all of the good work that our schools do. And yes, we spend a lot of money on our schools, and there are problems, and ways we can make them more cost effective.”

“…Even with all the problems and the lack of funding for state Ed to do oversight, we still have to also remind people that we have a fabulous amount of school buildings, many of them state-of-the-art. Good things happening, and how do we maintain them, how do we do proper surveys so that all children…so the equity issue is addressed.”

Nolan also expressed her dismay over the recent decision by a SUNY committee that allows some charter schools to certify their own teachers – a move that is being challenged by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, and its NYC affiliate, the UFT, both of which are longtime allies of the Assembly Democrats.

Nolan echoed the concerns expressed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie that the committee may have overstepped its powers even under a bill passed in 2016 by the Legislature that gave SUNY more authority over the charters it oversees.

The assemblywoman said she, like the speaker, wants to await the outcome of the unions’ legal challenge, but added that she also has been spurred to take a closer look “into the whole mishpocheh, so to speak,” noting: “SUNY is an arm of the government, after all.”

Heastie: Con Con Not Best ‘Vehicle’ For Change

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday reiterated his opposition to holding a constitutional convention, calling it the wrong “vehicle” to making changes to the state constitution.

“I believe most of the members believe as I do that the constitution is a document we want to protect from the whims of special interest money from outside the state that would like to see partisan changes to the constitution,” he said.

Heastie and the Assembly Democratic conference were in Albany Tuesday for a closed-door meeting, discussing issues ranging from federal budget cuts, the state’s financial concerns and in “generic terms” discussions surrounding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Heastie said the constitutional convention, which voters will determine whether to hold in a referendum next month, was part of the discussion. He said the conversation stemmed from a “refresher” on the convention and the referendum, which is held every 20 years.

Labor unions, environmental groups and some conservative organizations have opposed the convention — called a con con — over concerns it would put at risk legal rights and protections in the existing constituion.

“I believe that most legislators believe as I do that there is a vehicle to change the Constitution and that’s through the Legislature,” Heastie said. “As I’ve said before and to some of the people who support a convention, this just opens up the entire document and you can propose any change you want.”

Assembly Supportive Of Flood Relief Aid, But Non-Committal On Return

Assembly Democrats on Tuesday indicated they’d back a plan to boost flood relief aid in Lake Ontario and the surrounding area — some $35 million.

But it’s not clear when that funding may be given the OK by the full Legislature.

“The quickest that we are all back in here, I believe that will be one of the things that’s on the agenda whether it’s in a special session or if we come back in January, very soon after that,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Assembly Democrats returned Tuesday at the Capitol to meet privately for several hours. The meeting followed multiple comments about a possible special session from Governor Andrew Cuomo over the last several weeks, with flood relief among the items being considered.

“Hopefully whenever we reconvene, we’ll get the money into the hands of people who need it to rebuild their communities,” said Joe Morelle, the Assembly majority leader.

Lawmakers and Cuomo earlier this year approved $45 million for communities hit hard by the rising waters of Lake Ontario. But that was half the amount lawmakers had originally sought.

“It was certainly more art than science because we didn’t know the level of interest would be and the level of damage would be, so we talked about that if the dollars were sufficient, coming back and doing another appropriation,” Heastie said.

Meanwhile, Cuomo has also suggested the Legislature may need to return to contend with federal budget cuts to public welfare hospitals and children’s health insurance unless Congress acts.

“I think we’re fine, but if some severe federal action comes, I think it will be a larger conversation between the Assembly, Senate and the governor. But if nothing else happens, we may not have to come back,” Heastie said.

Bill Would Expand Definition Of Private Information

State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would expand the definition of what is considered personal information to include birthdays, home addresses and telephone numbers in the wake of the Equifax data breach.

“Cyber-disasters like the massive Equifax breach are becoming too common and government must catch up to better protect consumers,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “Almost all of the data included in the Equifax breach could be used maliciously, yet the law only protects consumers for leaks of a narrow subset of private data.

Currently, if personal information is compromised, data breach protections are triggered. Expanding the range of what’s considered private can trigger those protections faster. Information such as social security numbers, driver’s license or state ID card numbers, credit card, debit card, or bank account numbers are considered private.

“Protecting consumers’ private information is critical to preventing identity theft,” said Sen. David Carlucci, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“New York’s current definition of private information does not go far enough and leaves consumers at risk. In order to hold companies like Equifax accountable and ensure the best possible response to a data breach, we need to make sure the definition of what information is considered private is as broad as possible. This legislation brings New York into the modern age by expanding that definition to fit changing times. Cyber criminals are always adapting – we need to adapt even faster to keep New Yorkers and their data safe.”