Silver: Yes On Faster Minimum Wage Phase-In, No To Education Tax Credit (Updated)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is still holding out hope for a faster increase in the state’s minimum wage, but he shot down the education-tax credit that’s being pushed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Silver outlined his end-of-session priorities on Wednesday, telling reporters that he would be open to taking up anti-heroin legislation that has passed the state Senate as well as a push to increase the number of family court judges in the state.

“I think heroin is becoming a big problem in this state and we have to address that,” Silver said. “I would like to come to an agreement on new family court judges. That’s something we desperately we need and we have the money in the budget to do it.”

And the speaker made another push for the Dream Act, legislation that provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, but failed in the state Senate earlier this year.

“I would like to still see a Dream Act pass in this state,” Silver said. “I think it’s something we owe to young people, which is opportunity.”

The Dream Act legislation has often been discussed as being linked to an education tax credit, which is aimed at private and parochial school donations.

But Silver on Wednesday rejected the tax credit, saying it “doesn’t make any sense” given the combined rebate can be as high as $1.35 for a $1 contribution.

Dolan has appeared in a TV ad pushing both state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take up the education-tax credit legislation.

Updated: The concerns Silver raises are addressed by a measure backed by Assemblyman Michael Cusick.

“Nobody wants that to happen and it’s already been addressed by Assemblyman Cusick in his legislation,” said Bob Bellafiore of Stanhope Partners.

Silver: New Harassment Policy Completed

A revised policy for handling sexual harassment cases has been completed, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters on Wednesday.

Silver’s effort to toss a federal lawsuit brought by two female legislative aides who accused former Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment was denied on Tuesday, a development that the speaker shrugged off.

“The attorney handled it appropriately,” Silver said. “It’s a preliminary proceeding in the court house. I think ultimately the facts will come out in the case will show that we acted in good faith in these cases.”

Silver is being sued in federal court over his handling of the Lopez harassment case, which involved securing more than $100,000 in settlement funds for a third woman who accused the Brooklyn Democrat of harassment.

Lopez resigned his seat after an ethics commission report painted a damning picture of harassment and abuse.

In the wake of the scandal, Silver said the Assembly would develop new guidelines for reporting harassment.

“I believe you’ll see it’s posted,” Silver said. “It’s done.”

Federal Judge Won’t Dismiss Silver Harassment Suit

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s effort to toss a federal lawsuit brought by two of the women who accused former Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment on Tuesday was denied.

U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres wrote in a ruling that both of the legislative aides have made claims of “sufficient facts to establish a plausible claim” the longtime speaker participated and case their rights to be deprived.

Silver’s office signed off on a more than $100,000 confidential settlement agreement with a third woman in the harassment case.

He has apologized for keeping the settlement a secret, but insists no laws were broken in the process.

229042805 Silver Motion to Dismiss Decision by Nick Reisman

Gottfried Confident Med Mar Bills Can Be Reconciled

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried is confident the differing measures in the Senate and Assembly that would legalize medical marijuana can be reconciled with the state Senate’s version of the bill.

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday approved the bill known as the Compassionate Care Act, 91-34.

And while Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t said whether he’d sign the legislation, the latest roadblocks to passage include differing versions of the bill in the Senate, which was amended in order to gain more GOP support in the chamber.

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, said he’s open to a compromise.

“There are some amendments in the Senate bill that I’d be perfectly comfortable with, some I’d rather not seen, but might be doable if that’s what gets a bill passed,” he said.

The legislation in the Senate has been amended several times, including limiting the number of manufacturers of medical marijuana to 20 and age restrictions for when a patient can use the smokeable form of the drug.

Five Republican lawmakers in the Senate are now on board with the legislation, and the measure was discharged last week out of the Senate Health Committee. Republican Sen. Bill Larkin cast a vote in favor sending the bill to the Senate Finance Committee.

And an even bigger question mark is what Governor Andrew Cuomo will do if the medical marijuana bill comes to his desk. Cuomo late last year said he would create a more limited medical marijuana program out of an existing law which is yet to take shape.

Still, supporters of the measure believe this year is the closest they’ve ever come to seeing the measure pass both chambers.

“I think we are touch and go — which is a lot closer than we’ve ever been,” Gottfried said. “I’m optimistic, but sometimes close but no cigar.”

Katz: ‘Above And Beyond’ To Study Med Mar

As lawmakers in the Assembly debated the legalization of medical marijuana, Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz said he had gone “above and beyond” to study the issue.

“Over the past year, I’ve gone above and beyond to explore the benefits of medicinal cannabis and the surrounding industry,” Katz said.

The Westchester County lawmaker was issued a ticket last year for marijuana possession on the state Thruway and has since become a vocal proponent of medical marijuana.

Since then, Katz says he has done his homework on marijuana legalization as well as the business the pops up around it.

Katz even went as far as to suggest in the floor debate that the bill, backed by Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, doesn’t have enough dispensaries allowed.

Katz touted the cash the state would receive from the legalization of medical marijuana as well as the pain relief it would provide for those who are terminally ill or have neurological conditions.

The measure is expected to be approved in the Assembly, but faces an uncertain future in the state Senate, where five GOP lawmakers — mostly from western and upstate New York — back the legislation.

Albany-Area Lawmakers Prod Schwartz On M/C Pay Restoration

Capital Region lawmakers in the Assembly are prodding a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to move forward with a plan to restore regular pay increases for non-unionized management/confidential state workers.

The letter dated today and sent to Cuomo Secretary Larry Schwartz, signed by Democratic lawmakers Patricia Fahy, Angelo Santabarbara, Phil Steck and John McDonald, makes reference to his interview earlier this month on Capital Tonight in which he said the issue of M/C raises would be dealt with administratively.

“We are going to work to implement that,” Schwartz said in the interview on April 2. “We certainly can make it retroactive to April 1.”

The 9,200 state employees designated management/confidential or “M/C” haven’t seen a pay raise since the 2008 financial crisis.

A pay-raise commission was nixed by Cuomo last fall, who wrote in a veto message that any raises for m/c workers should be done in the context of the budget, but no agreement on M/C pay hikes was reached in the approved 2014-15 state budget.

4 29 2014 Letter Sec Schwartz (MoA Fahy McDonald Santabarbara and Steck) by Nick Reisman

Moya: Tax Credit, DREAM Act Aren’t Linked

From the morning memo:

Does the DREAM Act have legs again?

That’s the hope, at least, for supporters after Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his most forceful public endorsement of the measure to date at Friday night’s Democratic Rural Conference at the Albany Hilton.

Cuomo, who spoke to upstate Democrats in a roughly 10-minute stump speech, outlined his priorities for the post-budget legislative session ranging from the women’s agenda to a statewide version of public financing.

In backing the DREAM Act, he knocked those who have voted against the measure (Which include all Republicans in the state Senate, Democrat Ted O’Brien of the Rochester area and Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who sits with the Republicans).

“Do you believe what we believe when we see the Statue of Liberty open her arms and say come one come all? Do you believe in e pluribus unum?” Cuomo said at the DRC. “Do you believe in immigration? And if you did, then why didn’t you vote for the DREAM Act to make the dream a reality?”

The tacit implication is that if these issues aren’t approved this spring, they’ll meld into the campaign rhetoric this summer and fall.

Still, Cuomo revving up Democrats on the measure comes a month after it failed by two votes in the Senate (the governor previously said he would sign the DREAM Act if it was approved by both the Senate and Assembly).

Recall that back in March, Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino criticized Cuomo a day after the speech for not lobbying hard on the measure. Astorino says he supports a version of the DREAM Fund, which would raise private money for essentially the same goal, but not use state dollars.

Last night on Capital Tonight, the primary backer of the DREAM Act in the Assembly said in an interview that Cuomo’s forceful support is welcomed no matter the timing.

“I think we’re always encouraged when we can have the top Democrat in our state, our governor, come out to support this issue and make it a priority,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat.

Revived talk of the DREAM Act comes as some lawmakers continue to push for a measure that would provide a tax credit for donating to private and parochial schools, a bill supported by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The measure is opposed by teacher unions, however, and faces an uphill climb in the Assembly.

As is often the case in Albany, talk surfaced that both the education investment tax credit and the DREAM Act would somehow be linked.

But Moya insisted in the interview that isn’t the case.

“I don’t know who’s been discussing that,” Moya said. “That’s never been something that was brought up in the negotiations. These are two separate bills that stand on their own merits. We should be doing both.”

He added, “There’s been no discussion in any of the conversations I’ve had with the governor’s office or anyone else about a combination of these two bills.”

Assembly Spending $80K Sexual Harassment Policy

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli approved an $80,000 contract last month for an Albany-based law firm that will help the Democratic-led Assembly develop a sexual harassment and retaliation policy.

DiNapoli, records show, approved the contract last month with the firm Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP.

The same firm in June signed a $14,000 contract with the Assembly for the sexual harassment complaints came after it was revealed Assemblyman Micah Kellner had conducted inappropriate chats over the Internet with a legislative aide in 2009, but never made it past the desk of counsel Bill Collins.

Kellner is appealing a decision from the Assembly Ethics Committee that stripped him of his committee chairmanship and legislative office staff.

Coincidentally, the law firm had contributed $1,000 to now ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democrat who resigned in 2013 following an ethics report detailing harassment and abuse by the lawmaker toward female legislative aides.

In January, western New York Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned after it was revealed he had sexually harassed multiple women in his office.

The following month, the Assembly approved $205,000 for another independent law firm, Rossein Associates, to respond to sexual-harassment complaints.

Dream Act Supporters Blast Grisanti Ad

From the morning memo:

Supporters of the DREAM Act are blasting a campaign ad from Buffalo Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti that highlights his opposition to the legislation.

Grisanti, who is considered a moderate given his votes in favor of the gun control bill known as the SAFE Act and support for same-sex marriage, released a TV ad that touts his opposition to the measure, as well as the public financing of political campaigns and providing college inmates with access to college courses.

For supporters of the DREAM Act, Grisanti’s opposition comes off especially harsh.

“What the campaign ad unveiled today makes obvious is that the Republican leadership’s willingness to allow a Senate vote on the DREAM Act had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with policy,” said Sen. Jose Peralta, a Queens Democrat. “While there is a growing consensus among business, labor and Republican and Democratic leaders across the country on the importance and economic benefits of reforms such as the DREAM Act,New York Republicans cling to narrow-minded ideals in a misguided bid to keep to the right of Rick Perry.”

The measure, which provides tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants, was voted down in the Senate after it failed to achieve the needed 32 votes for passage.

The hope at the time was that at least two Republicans — supporters had been eyeing Sens. Jack Martins and Phil Boyle of Long Island — as potential yes votes.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, the lead sponsor of the measure in the Assembly, went further, calling the ad “disgraceful.”

“The ad touts his opposition to several forward-thinking pieces of legislation, including the DREAM Act, as if it’s a good thing,” Moya said. “It’s not. Preventing New York’s children from going to college is nothing to be proud of. In fact, this ad makes plain what we suspected all along, that Republican opposition to the DREAM Act was based on political convenience, not principle. Opposing the DREAM Act just to score political points is shameful. When New York’s DREAMers are unable to go to college and are then forced to live lives of underpaid, under-the-table work, we’ll know who to thank, Senator Mark Grisanti.”

Latino lawmakers have vowed to push for the bill in the post-budget legislative session after it was not included in the 2014-15 state budget.

Med-Mar Supporters Undaunted

While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday cast doubt on whether a bill to legalize medical marijuana would be approved by the Senate this year, advocates for the measure were in Albany and undaunted by the skepticism.

“There’s definitely a lot of momentum,” said Holly Anderson, the executive director for the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, who met with Assembly Health Chairman Richard Gottfried. “This is as far as it’s ever been before.”

Anderson was one of about a dozen advocates who lobbied lawmakers on Tuesday for the measure, known as the Compassionate Care Act.

“I think people are really paying attention and putting their preconceived notions aside and really reading what we bring to them,” she said.

Senate Republicans — primarily from western New York — have announced their support for the measure as well, seen as a breakthrough for advocates.

“We still have some folks on the fence, we still have some reluctant senators, but we’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’ve got nine weeks to push this through.”

Despite that momentum, Silver seemed to slam on the brakes Monday when said the bill doesn’t seem to have “a future in this session.”

His office quickly clarified, noting that the bill had the support of the Assembly and would easily pass should the Senate approve it.

“To date the Senate has not acted on the legislation,” Silver’s office said in a statement. “Should the Senate decide to take up the bill, we would be delighted to pass it once again. I hope this is the year New York finally has a medical marijuana law.”

Gottfried, the bill’s prime sponsor in the chamber, wasn’t all that concerned about Silver’s take on the bill’s chances of passing.

“I think what Speaker Silver is that the Senate hasn’t taken it up so far but if and when they do it will pass both houses and go to the governor,” he said in an interview.

The measure was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution, which estimated annual revenue of about $66 million from the program.

It remains how many votes are available for the bill in the Senate, where Sen. Diane Savino says she has as many as 41 in favor, even as some Republicans suggest changes that would prohibit smoking medical marijuana.

“I think it’s look very good in the state Senate,” Gottfried said. “Senator Savino says I think she has over 40 votes which is a lot more than a majority.”

Savino on Monday made a parliamentary maneuver that would compel the Health Committee in the Senate to hold a vote on the measure.

The other uncertain variable is what Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to do.

He supports a more limited medical marijuana plan through an existing law and has not said whether he would sign the Compassionate Care Act if it goes to his desk.