Assembly Dems Share ‘Troubling’ NYC Charter Data With Heastie

As a throng of charter school students, advocates and parents hold a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, Assembly Democrats are raising concerns with Speaker Carl Heastie on the alternative public schools.

In letter sent by Assemblyman Walter Mosley and backed by nearly two dozen of his fellow Democratic conference members, lawmakers write that “it is clear that many of the charter schools in New York City are serving much lower proportions of high need students than public schools within the same communities.”

In particular, the lawmakers point to the “free space” provided to charters in public school buildings, a practice known as co-location.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers write they are “deeply concerned” that charter schools in the city have student discipline guidelines that are inconsistent with legal protections and policies for regular city schools.

Charter schools, they write, have suspended over 10 percent of their students in 2011-12, compared to an average of 1 percent suspension rate in traditional public schools.

The letter comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to raise the cap on charter schools statewide and provide more per pupil tuition assistance in his $142 billion budget proposal.

Cuomo has spoken of the effort to end the “public monopoly” of public education in the state through a strengthening of charter schools in the state budget.

Assembly Dems letter on charters by liz_benjamin6490

Advocate to Senate: No Stand-Alone DREAM Act, Please

Generally speaking neither side of the DREAM Act/Education Investment Tax Credit debate is terribly thrilled to have been linked together in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget and then seen that questionable marriage further cemented by being tied to TAP funding in the 30-day amendments.

Some advocates on both sides have been calling for the two issues to be uncoupled, even though doing do would almost certainly weaken the chances of either passing before the 2015 session ends, thanks to the Senate GOP’s staunch opposition to the DREAM Act and the Assembly Democrats’ general dislike (following the teachers unions’s lead) of the tax credit.

Last week, the Assembly Democrats again passed a stand-alone version of the DREAM Act, and Speaker Carl Heastie said in no uncertain terms that he does not believe these two otherwise unrelated issues should be linked.

“That was the governor’s choice,” said Heastie, who was a past co-sponsor of the tax credit bill, but – as with all other bills – has removed his name from the measure since he rose to the speaker’s post. “The governor did that. We’re moving forward today with the Dream Act, and we hope that it will passed on its own merits in the State Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has called the DREAM Act a nonstarter in his house, and with good reason – politically speaking – considering the fact that a number of his new members actively campaigned against the measure during the 2014 elections and were successful at the ballot box as a result of their opposition.

Skelos, too, wants the DREAM Act and tax credit uncoupled, arguing that the tax credit, which matters a lot to a number of his members and their conservative constituencies, should be allowed to rise or fall on its own merits.

As for the DREAM Act, no matter how much supporters would like to see a “clean” bill pass, at least one member of the immigrant advocacy community recognizes the reality of the situation, which is that letting the measure come up for a vote in the Senate is likely a recipe for disaster – an all-but certain repeat of the bill’s 2014 failure.

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said last night on CapTon that while he did not disagree with the Assembly’s action on the DREAM Act, he doesn’t want the Senate to follow suit.

“Do I think it’s a good idea that it gets introduced in the Senate? I’ll be honest, No,” Choi said. “I think passing it in the Assembly was enough of a way to say: Look, we are dug in on this. It’s an important issue for us. I think it’s important as a signal to send out before the budget battle begins.”

Choi said the DREAM Act community is counting on the governor to deliver on his promise that the DREAM Act will become a reality this year, and will be deeply disappointed if that does not occur.

“Folks really lined up behind the governor,” in the 2014 election, Choi said. “Our message to him has been: Stay on target. Don’t deviate off course.”

Who Blinks First?

Today is March 4. Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his 30-day budget amendments, which jammed the Legislature by stuffing ever more policy (particularly ethics reforms) into appropriations bills, on Feb. 21 – almost two weeks ago.

So far, neither the Senate nor the Assembly has introduced Cuomo’s amendments – a move required before they can be formally considered by state lawmakers.

As Newsday’s Mike Gormley reported, the Assembly issued a statement Sunday night pledging to get the introduction process started, but gave no timeline for doing so. And, as of last night, the chamber still had yet to take action.

In a statement given to Gormley over the weekend and re-issued to me last night, Mike Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the amendments would “of course” be printed “because the Constitution requires us to act on them as submitted.”

“We are reviewing them with members,” Whyland continued, “and we continue to negotiate in good faith on all of the issues – including the ethics reform package. We will be meeting with the governor to further discuss the budget this week.”

Sources familiar with the Senate Republicans’ thinking say they are holding back on introductions because they’re reviewing “all options” in response to the governor’s hardball budget tactics – including a possible lawsuit revisiting the landmark 2004 Court of Appeals decision on the division of budget power between the executive and legislative branches.

That decision is commonly referred to in Albany as “Silver v. Pataki,” and it’s actually the result of two separate cases brought against then-Gov. George Pataki by the Assembly, which believed he was overstepping his executive powers by inserting policy into appropriations bills, over which the Legislature has very little control.

I wrote about this issue for Capital NY a few weeks back, speaking to a number of key players in the Silver v. Pataki cases – including former Judge Robert Smith, who wrote the plurality opinion under which the Capitol is currently operating.

Most legal experts and Capitol observers agree the decision is ripe for revisitation, especially since the judges determined there is indeed a line over which the governor might step when it comes to using the budget as a policy-making vehicle. The trouble is, the court declined to define where that line is.

Most agree that the governor’s insertion of ethics reform – specifically tying per diem changes and disclosure requirements to the state comptroller’s budget – is a stretch of even the limited boundaries defined in Silver v. Pataki.

Just today, Daily News columnist Bill Hammond wrote of the “dangerous precedent” being set by Cuomo’s use of his sweeping budgetary authority, raising concerns that future governors could “easily” abuse this power.

The problem is, challenging the governor’s ethics reform push in court would be terrible for the Legislature from an optics standpoint.

The scandal-weary public is highly unlikely to understand the esoteric argument about restoring a balance of power in Albany – especially when that involves giving more of a say to the Legislature, of which most New Yorkers don’t have the highest opinion these days.

Cuomo is well aware of this, and he also believes he’s on sound legal footing, having consulted with a number of attorneys – including Pataki’s former counsel, Jim McGuire, who is widely acknowledged as the architect behind the then-governor’s winning strategy in Pataki v. Silver.

The Assembly is no happier than the Senate with Cuomo’s budget bullying, but seems a bit less anxious to challenge his authority here – perhaps due to the fact that it is still reeling from the change in leadership and trying to get its sea legs under the new speaker, Carl Heastie.

Generally speaking, lawmakers are trying to determine whether it’s worth going to war with Cuomo now, or waiting to see if he’s really serious about being willing to risk a late budget – and a government shutdown – to get what he wants in ethics reform.

In the past, Cuomo has been willing to make deals, calling half a loaf a victory. But if he deviates from his track record this time and refuses to submit new, re-negotiated budget bills before the April 1 deadline, the Legislature could be in trouble.

Moya, Building Trades Push Scaffold Sunshine Law

Queens Democratic Assemblyman Francisco Moya, along with affordable housing advocates the Building and Construction Trades Council on Monday pushed a bill that would add new requirements for insurance providers that operate under the state’s Scaffold Law.

The measure — deemed “The Sunshine Bill” by supporters would require insurance companies to file annual financial disclosure statements and claims with the Department of Financial Services, which regulates banking and insurance in New York.

The bill seems aimed at the ongoing dispute over the cost of the Scaffold Law — which business groups contend is onerous — but supported by labor groups as well as the state’s powerful trial lawyers lobby.

“The Sunshine Bill will bring much-needed facts and clarity to insurance pricing and practices,” Moya said in a statement. “We cannot amend critical worker safety protections without first shedding light on how insurers calculate liability premiums. We owe it to the thousands of construction workers who risk their lives to build our state’s infrastructure.”

The measure is supported by the Building and Construction Trades Council, a powerful private-sector union that has been supportive of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“New York has long been a leader when it comes to worker safety, and we can’t afford to break that tradition,” the group’s president said. “Weakening the Scaffold Safety Law would put thousands of working people’s lives at direct risk. If the insurance industry shares our concerns about construction site safety, they shouldn’t stand in the way of real debate and should let the real facts come out.”

Scaffold reform groups contend the measure isn’t necessary and that the information on the cost of the regulation is already public available.

Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance called the measure a “diversion.”

“The data is clear: New York’s insurance costs are the highest in the nation, and the reason is the Scaffold Law,” he said. “Far from earning outsized profits, insurance companies are abandoning the New York construction market entirely. We are encouraged that organized labor and the personal injury lawyer lobby has finally acknowledged the serious impacts of our astronomical construction insurance rates. Unfortunately, this misguided legislation does nothing to advance a meaningful discussion about Scaffold Law reform, which has strong bipartisan support.”

Despite Arrest, Addiction Treatment Group To Honor Silver

A legislative reception honoring former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is scheduled to be held this evening by a group that supports addiction services treatment.

The group, Coalition For Community Services, will present Silver with its Champion Award this evening at a reception at the Albany Room.

The event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

Silver was arrested in January on corruption charges. He faces a three-count indictment from federal prosecutors who accused him of masking legal referrals as bribes and kickbacks.

Luke Nasta, the group’s public policy officer, said the event was scheduled before Silver’s arrest.

“We’ve been consistent in why we’re recognizing Sheldon Silver,” Nasta said.

Silver as speaker and in public office has been a longtime supporter in the Legislature of helping champion chemical dependency treatment “especially during the Pataki years,” Nasta said.

“It’s about the cause,” he added.

Silver, who retains his seat in the Assembly representing lower Manhattan, is expected to attend the event this evening, Nasta said.

Invited to speak are Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Silver’s successor as speaker, Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie.

Kavanagh Signs On To Bill Blocking Legal Reimbursements

Democratic Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh has introduced a measure in his chamber that would block taxpayer reimbursements of legal fees for public officials who tapped their campaign accounts acquitted of criminal charges.

The measure was first introduced in January by Queens Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris, and picked up Kavanagh as an Assembly sponsor this week.

The bill would address the practice of allowing state officials to seek reimbursement for their legal defense, pending approval from the state attorney general and comptroller’s offices.

The reimbursement option was highlighted after former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno successfully sought $2.4 million from the state following a not guilty verdict in his second corruption trial.

Bruno’s defense was largely paid for by $1.2 million out of his campaign account as well as a legal defense fund.

“This bill will protect taxpayers by preventing reimbursements to a campaign committee or legal defense fund,” the bill memo states. “Additionally, the bill provides that if a criminal defendant has a legal defense fund, he or she will be required to expend all money in the account before he or she would be entitled to any taxpayer reimbursement.”

Coalition Urges Heastie To Drop MMA Support

A coalition of women’s groups, business and labor organizations is urging Speaker Carl Heastie to drop his stated support for the legalization of mized-martial arts, according to a letter obtained by Capital Tonight.

In the letter, the coalition known as MMA Go Away writes to Heastie that the sport, which has been the subject of intense lobbying in recent years at the Capitol, is “hostile” to women given its level of violence.

“With your election as Speaker of the State Assembly, the women of this state are looking forward to a new day in Albany. As we celebrate the historic progress reflected by your ascension to Speaker, it is equally important to send the forceful message that the Assembly is fully committed to being a voice for women across every corner of the state,” the coalition wrote in the letter. “The issue of violence against women stands out as blight on our society, and nowhere is that violence more disturbingly displayed than in mixed martial arts culture. Thus, we strongly urge you to oppose the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts this session.”

The letter signed by NOW-NYC and Assemblywoman Michelle Solages.

Heastie has been a previous sponsor of the MMA legalization legislation, though he removed his name from the sponsorship of bills so as to not show a preference for any particular piece of legislation.

The Bronx Democrat did tell reporters that he remains personally supportive of MMA, but would leave it up to his conference whether there is a vote on the bill this year.

Heastie’s predecessor, Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver, was opposed to the legalization of MMA.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle last week re-introduced his MMA legalization bill.

The bill is expected to be voted on in the state Senate later this year, where it has passed multiple times.

MMA Letter by Nick Reisman

Heastie: ‘Disappointment’ In 30-Day Amendments

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said on Thursday he told Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week he was disappointed that the 30-day amendments to his budget proposal tied policy to appropriations.

In particular, the governor is linking his outside income disclosure proposals and reforms to travel reimbursements to spending in the $142 billion budget, including the comptroller’s office and capital projects.

“The governor and I have spoken and he knows about my disappointment in how he presented the 30-day amendments,” Heastie told reporters at a news conference.

“It kind of ties the Legislature’s hands to act,” he added.

In many respects, that is indeed Cuomo’s point: Lawmakers can strike out or approve language in the budget, but they cannot alter it. Cuomo and lawmakers, of course, could negotiate new budget bills wholesale before the deadline.

Heastie said he still wants to have a budget approved by the March 31 deadline.

“We don’t want to play the blame game, we want to get an on-time budget,” he said.

The speaker, who is negotiating his first budget with Cuomo since taking office last month, wouldn’t speculate on whether lawmakers could mount a legal challenge to Cuomo’s wedding of policy to spending.

“Again, I expressed my disappointment to the governor,” he said. “There’s a lot of things the Legislature could consider, but I think in the midst of all that the governor seems to be in a good place where we’re actively in discussions for having a budget.”

Heastie: Keep DREAM Act As A Standalone Bill

Add Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to the list of legislative officials who want the DREAM Act separated from the education tax credit.

“We’re going to pass it as a standalone today and we believe should be passed as a standalone,” Heastie said of the DREAM Act.

Both measures have been lashed together by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in his 30-day amendments last week also yoked the measures to funding for the Tuition Assistance Program.

“We don’t believe they should be linked it, either,” Heastie said. “We’re moving forward today believing they should be considered on their own merits.”

The Democratic-led Assembly today is expected to approve the DREAM Act, a measure that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Senate Republicans are largely opposed to the bill, but support the tax credit legislation, which is backed by religious organizations and is aimed at helping non-profits receive donations that aid scholarship funds.

“The investment tax credit will be another standalone issue that we decide as a conference,” Heastie said. “All of these issues are on the table, but we wanted to move forward with the DREAM Act today.”

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb this week said he wanted TAP decoupled from the DREAM Act as well.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos after exiting a leaders meeting on Wednesday said he wanted all three issues unlinked.

Assembly Republicans Push For School Aid Runs

Republicans in the state Assembly on Thursday pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release school aid runs so that districts can better plan their budgets and tax levies, which are due to go before voters this May.

“I can think of no worse example of not being transparent, not having sunlight than not releasing school aid runs for school districts around the state,” Minority Leader Brian Kolb said.

The information typically is released in conjunction with a governor’s annual budget proposal and provides a district-by-district breakdown of how much money a given school district expects to receive in state aid.

This year, as Cuomo ties most of his $1.1 billion spending increase in education to policy changes, his office has declined to release the school aid information. Cuomo has said school districts should budget with last year’s state aid numbers as a projection.

Still, not releasing the aid runs is an unusual step for Albany’s budgeting process, lawmakers said.

“School districts need this information so they can at least start their planning,” Kolb said. “I have been here 15 years and I’ve never experienced a governor in both parties as not releasing school aid runs in both parties not releasing school aid runs as part of their budget.”

Cuomo’s budget would create a more stringent teacher evaluation system and make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure. At the same time, Cuomo wants to increase the statewide cap on charter schools by 100.

The policies have put Cuomo on a collision course with the state’s teachers unions, which have accused the governor of being “anti-teacher.”

But for districts, the lack of aid information is more acute, with anticipated levies due by March 1.

“There’s a process that has to take place,” said School Boards Association President Tim Kremer. T”hese are multi-million dollar budgets and putting them together with a few weeks notice is impossible.”

Kremer said that some districts are even moving forward with layoffs while assuming flat spending increases.

“This has become very chaotic without that revenue figure,” he said.