Assembly Takes Up Dream Act Amid National Immigration Debate

Amid the backdrop of a pitched battle over immigration on the national level, Assembly Democrats on Monday once again pushed for the passage of the Dream Act, a state-level bill that provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

“Denying these students aid is denying them education,” said Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, a Democrat who represents Inwood. “I’ve been lucky enough to know the dreamers, to call them my friends, my neighbors and even my interns.”

It’s the eighth time the Assembly has moved to pass a version of the bill, which also has the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his $168 billion budget proposal and comes as federal lawmakers debate how to handle the millions of children who arrived in the United States as undocumented immigrants.

“They want to continue their education, they want to be able to contribute to this country and to do nothing for them, to almost ignore their existence, I don’t understand how that’s helpful,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Democratic lawmakers said it’s on the closely divided state Senate, led by Republicans, to get the bill over the finish line.

“Time and again the Assembly does the right thing and the people in the other house stay silent,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.

The Senate’s politics are complicated right now, but Democrats could end up in control by the spring, pending the outcome of two special elections.

“Hope spring’s eternal,” Heastie said. “Maybe they have finally gotten it over there and they are willing to do it. Politics of the party often rule, but if not and the Senate does flip, we’ll continue to push this.”

For their part, Republicans have campaigned against the legislation over the years, saying a state with limited resources should help those who come to the country through legal channels first.

“My mother and father in law were immigrants here directly from Ireland back in 1966,” said Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican. “So if you want to come here to America, come here the right way.”

A Senate Republican in a spokesman in a statement said the GOP conference remains opposed to the bill, calling it unfair to middle class families who save for college tuition.

“We don’t support giving free college tuition to people who are here illegally while middle-class New Yorkers scrimp and save, take out massive college loans and work two jobs in the hopes that they can afford to send their own kids to college,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.

Ethics Conversation Remains Muted In Albany

From the Morning Memo:

Talk about ethics reform in the new legislative session has been largely muted this year, even as a year filled with corruption trials involving prominent New York figures is underway, including the ongoing trial this week of Joe Percoco, a former close aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“I think because it is in New York City and because we are in the process of the budget hearings, the budget negotiations are overshadowing this trial by a longshot,” said League of Women Voters Legislative Director Jennifer Wilson.

Senate Democrats this week in Albany tried to change that.

“Every year, we talk about cleaning up Albany. Every year we are waiting for something to happen, and each year, the other side, frankly, does nothing,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Senate Democrats unveiled a package of measures designed to reform campaign finance laws and how lobbying is done — measures that have failed to gain much traction in their chamber.

“We know that New York is one of the worst campaign finance systems in the country,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris. “The effect of big money is especially pronounced here. And everyone likes to talk about Citizens United and what we’re doing to combat it. We have done little to nothing to have an impact.”

Cuomo himself devoted little time in his State of the State address to ethics reform, but did include proposals in his budget, such as new disclosure rules for digital advertising and constitutional amendments for term limits and limiting outside income of lawmakers.

“We want to see uniformity and we want to see action taken quickly, especially with the Percoco trial going on, but it’s just not happening right now,” Wilson said.

And for now, that means more corruption cases dominating the headlines in Albany and around New York.

“With New Yorkers seeing what happens here in Albany, I think people get tired of the headlines, they get tired of the trials, they get tired of corruption,” Stewart-Cousins said.

An ethics reform package has been approved virtually every year Cuomo has been governor.

Democratic Lawmaker Opposes Tablets For Prisoners

Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in a statement Thursday said he opposed giving computer tablets to inmates in the state prison system, saying the equipment should instead go toward students, especially those with special needs.

“I will absolutely not support free computer tablets for prison inmates”, said Santabarbara, who represents the Schenectady area. “My son Michael lives with autism and needs to use a computer tablet as a communication tool. These tablets should be going to help kids like him and all New Yorkers with developmental disabilities that need them – not prisoners.”

He added, “And at a time when public schools are struggling with budget shortfalls and student loan debt is increasing, these tablets would go a long way for high school students here in the Capital Region and could also help those trying to get through college. They should NOT be used to enhance the prison experience for criminals.”

The tablets are being provided free of taxpayer cost to inmates from a Florida-based company. The tablets can only download educational material and the inmates can use them to communicate via email with family member.

Educational opportunities for those in state prisons has been a controversial issue for lawmakers, especially those in upstate areas whose districts include prisons or who have constituents who work in correctional facilities.

The state has provided college courses for inmates at 17 facilities. Providing educational support for inmates in prison can help to reduce recidivism, criminal justice reform advocates have argued.

Assembly Approves Lavern’s Law

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday approved legislation that would make it easier to file lawsuits over failed cancer diagnoses.

The bill’s passage comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced they had reached a three-way agreement on the measure known as Lavern’s Law.

The bill extends the statute of limitations to the date a patient has learned or should have learned of their misdiagnosis.

“When it comes to treating life-threatening illnesses, we know that time is of the essence,” Heastie said in a statement. “Under this legislation, individuals who have suffered the consequences of a missed diagnosis will be given the opportunity to seek justice.”

“Without this legislation, cancer patients are at continued risk of having their rights expire before they even discover malpractice,” said Assemblymember Weinstein. “Current law has for too long denied individuals their day in court and fails to hold medical professionals responsible for their mistakes, which can have life-and-death consequences for their patients.”

Kolb Picks Up More County Chair Support

The same day that a feelow Republican lawmaker announced he was running for governor, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb announced the backing of nine county chairs in his bid for the nomination.

“Brian Kolb has been an unwavering advocate for our entire region and for families across New York,” the chairs said in a statement. “Brian is an honest leader who will end the corruption and mismanagement plaguing Andrew Cuomo’s administration and bring good-paying jobs back to our counties by reducing taxes on hardworking families and small businesses. We are proud to support Assembly Leader Brian Kolb for Governor.”

Kolb has now been endorsed by the county chairs of Monroe, Ontario, Allegany, Livingston, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates — all from the Finger Lakes region, which Kolb represents in the Assembly.

“The outpouring of support and the energy we’re seeing today should send a real message that voters in New York are tired of Andrew Cuomo’s mismanagement,” said Brian Kolb. “More than one million New Yorkers have fled our state under Cuomo, with the Finger Lakes region being especially hard hit. These folks deserve a leader who will lower taxes, bring jobs and opportunity back to their region, and that’s what I’ll do as Governor.”

The announcement comes as Sen. John DeFrancisco announced he is running for the Republican nomination as well, joining Kolb and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra.

Both DeFrancisco and Kolb have said they want to avoid a primary, having the nomination decided by the state convention.

Assembly Republicans Back Domestic Violence Legislation

Assembly Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a package of measures aimed at curtailing domestic violence and provide support for survivors.

“Victims of domestic violence must deal with the ramifications for the rest of their lives. Its physical and psychological impact ravages families and communities far too often. As legislators, we have a sworn and solemn duty to protect those we represent and this task force was a critical step toward eradicating this societal crisis,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said.

“We have heard directly from people dealing with domestic violence and taken great pains to craft a package of bills that will address each facet of the domestic violence crisis. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this important effort.”

The measures include a new statute in the penal law that is based on the existing hate crime statute. Another provision would create a new crime of domestic violence in the presence of a child.

Courts would also be allowed to award temporary spousal support when issuing a temporary order of protection.

And another measure would create a statewide public education campaign to promote health relationships and also be aimed at students to recognize warning signs.

“It was an honor to have hosted one of the Assembly Minority Conference’s public forums on domestic violence in Glenville. The event fostered an opportunity for local stakeholders to discuss the complex issues surrounding domestic violence in our community and statewide,” said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.

“These forums that my colleagues and I held throughout the state helped us to raise awareness and identify the need to enforce harsher penalties for abusers, provide affordable and accessible emergency housing and increase funding for critical support programs for victims. The several proposals we have outlined would take great strides toward addressing this very serious issue, and I am hopeful that our colleagues in the Assembly and Senate join us in promoting the importance of this effort.”

Lawmakers Want $2M To Promote Census In New York

State lawmakers and good government advocates on Tuesday called for a $2 million campaign to promote the coming 2020 U.S. Census in New York in order to assure all residents are accurately counted.

The concern is that people in immigrant communities will be under counted in part due to a fear of federal officials and hardline immigration policies from President Donald Trump’s administration.

The push for the campaign is backed by Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Democrat. But at a Capitol news conference this morning, Crespo said the issue should be a bipartisan one for New Yorkers.

“All of us have a reason to care deeply about the success of a proper count — making sure New York state doesn’t continue to give up billions of dollars in resources in particular at a time when this administration has demonstrated a disdain for states like New York,” he said.

New York could lose as many as two congressional districts in the 2022 round of reapportionment due to population loss. In 2012, New York lost two seats: One in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley region and another in Brooklyn.

The state had previously spent $2 million in 2009 to promote the 2010 Census. Crespo said he wants this campaign to focus on non-traditional means of communication to spread the word about the survey.

Rozic Seeks Gender Balance At Port Authority Board

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic is working with fellow state lawmakers in New Jersey to boost the number of women on the Port Authority’s board of commissioners, she said Friday in a statement.

At the same time, the Queens Democrat is backing legislation that aims to provide for greater gender balance on public authorities, IDAs and local development corporations.

The issue comes after the state Council on Women Girls released an agenda that includes increasing the number of women on state boards.

“Following stories about the lack of diversity on the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners in 2016, I decided to take an in depth look into women’s leadership positions across state boards,” said Assemblywoman Rozic. “Since then, three women have been appointed to PANYNJ’s board but New York has a long way to go in closing the gender leadership gap,” Rozic said. “I applaud Governor Cuomo for including this issue among his priorities this year and look forward to increased diversity on our public boards.”

The 12-member Port Authority Board of Commissioners has three women and no public state board in New York is composed of a majority of women.

Assembly Approves Emergency Access To Propane Bill

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation that would provide homeowners with more options for propane delivery when an emergency has been declared.

The bill, backed by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, would allow for the filling of a propane tank can be performed by a seller who is not the owner of the tank.

The measure came in response to some upstate residents, particularly in rural areas, who have not had timely access to propane refills during the winter months.

“It is simply unacceptable for families to be left without heat and unable to receive propane deliveries,” Santabarbara said. “With the cold temperatures expected to continue, we must do all we can to ensure no one is left behind.”

The bill also blocks a propane supplier from charging extra fees or penalties for filling the tank and bans companies that own the tanks from charging a penalty.

“No one should ever have to worry about being without heat during these cold winter months,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “That is why we have passed legislation to ensure that any individual or family heating their home with propane has options for filling their propane tanks when they need it most.”

DACC Has $2.2M In Cash On Hand

The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee has $2.2 million in its war chest — a major boost for a conference that already enjoys a large majority in the Assembly.

The conference over the last six months raised $1 million, according to its filing.

At this point in the previous election cycle, January 2014, the conference had $1.8 million in cash and had raised $468,100 during the comparable time period.

Assembly Democrats have more than 100 members in the chamber, which they’ve held power in since the Watergate scandal created a Democratic wave.