Apr 8th - 5:54 pm
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.
Apr 7th - 3:51 pm
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday defended the agreement in the $138 billion state budget that creates a public financing system only for the state comptroller’s race, but added he hopes a broader public-matching program will eventually be approved.
“Hopefully we’ll early on get either the complete thing done for the next campaign cycle or at least a more realistic experiment for the next campaign cycle,” Silver told reporters.
Silver noted that DiNapoli, a Democrat and supporter of public financing, had initially proposed a public financing program for his campaign as a sort of pilot program.
But the budget’s program would make the public financing system take effect this election cycle as DiNapoli gears up to run for another four-year term.
DiNapoli plans to not opt in to the program.
DiNapoli, of course, is a product of the state Assembly, having represented a Long Island district before his colleagues elected him to fill the unexpired term of Alan Hevesi, who resigned in 2005 before officially taking office for a second term.
The inclusion of the public financing program for the comptroller’s race has also inflamed good-government groups as well as advocates for the program who wanted a statewide system.
Silver with reporters noted Senate Republicans had initially opposed any form of public financing. The Democratic-led Assembly has approved a statewide public financing system multiple times.
“That’s a crack in that armor in that they agreed to this and hopefully as we go down the road, they’ll agree to the complete system,” he said.
The program has again stoked talk in political circles of the cold relationship between Cuomo and DiNapoli.
But given the comptroller’s roots in the Assembly, the move was also surprising. Silver said he understood why DiNapoli is choosing not to participate in the program.
“This is not much of a change to it, but I can understand that it came late in the process,” he said. “The re-election campaigns were already underway and that’s always been an option we’ve given in any kind of public financing system. He’s electing that option, he’s still my friend, I still intend to vote for him.”
Apr 7th - 3:16 pm
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday was skeptical on the prospects of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the post-budget legislative session.
“I don’t think it has a future in this session,” Silver told reporters on the floor of the Assembly chamber.
The statement is something of a surprise, given the perceived momentum for the bill, especially in the state Senate.
Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island lawmaker and member of the Independent Democratic Conference, said on Capital Tonight last month that there were 41 votes in favor of the legislation.
But Silver cast doubt on the prospects of the measure being approved in the Senate, where upstate Republicans — primarily from western New York — have announced their support for the legislation.
“There was no interest from the other parties,” Silver said of the Senate.
Despite the confidence from advocates on the Senate legislation, Silver noted, “They didn’t put it out.”
The Democratic-led Assembly, where the measure is sponsored by Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, included the medical marijuana program in its one-house budget resolution.
The Assembly estimates medical marijuana would bring in $66 million a year with a 10 percent tax. Local governments would receive 15 percent of the revenue.
Passage of the bill in the Assembly as a stand-alone piece of legislation would not be in doubt; the chamber has approved the legislation in the past.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not said what he would do if the medical marijuana legislation, known as the Compassionate Care Act, arrived on his desk.
Cuomo announced late last year he would create his own and more limited medical marijuana program through an executive order using an existing law.
Apr 3rd - 2:46 pm
Former New York City Councilman Charles Barron this week filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to run for the state Assembly seat vacated by his wife, Inez, records show.
The move for Charles Barron is not unexpected.
Barron, left the Council due to term limits, and had been telegraphing for months he would run for the Brooklyn-based district.
The former Black Panther has something of a knack for getting under the skin of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Barron in 2010 ran for governor on the Freedom Party ballot line, receiving 24,571 votes.
The following winter, he would later interrupt Cuomo when delivering a speech at caucus weekend in Albany.
He ran for Congress in 2012, but lost in a primary to Hakeem Jeffries.
Expect Barron, should he win the Assembly seat, to be a vocal and recognizable figure in the chamber.
Mar 27th - 12:32 pm
Queens Democratic Assemblyman Francisco Moya warned against linking the Dream Act to a proposal that would provide a tax credit for donations to public and private schools.
Moya, in a statement Thursday morning, supports both measures (He is the main sponsor of the Dream Act in the Assembly, which provides tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants).
But he said expanding the tax credit proposal to include scholarship funding for the Dream Act is not a “workable solution.”
This compromise is close to a “Dream Fund” — a proposal that is favored by Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a GOP candidate for governor.
“The DREAM Act must have a reliable funding stream,” Moya said. “Without that, most college-bound DREAMers will be left out in the cold. The futures of our state’s DREAMers are too important to be reliant upon the whims of donors.”
The statewide Dream Act Coalition also called this potential agreement a non-starter.
“While everyone can agree that compromise is an important part of the negotiations process, those compromises should not come at the expense of the hard working students who are desperately counting on Albany to do the right thing,” the coalition said.
Cardinal Dolan on Wednesday in a statement spelled out the potential agreement, saying the expanded tax credit program had his support.
Mar 26th - 2:58 pm
Democratic Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough, whose offices in Albany and Queens were raided he says over questions stemming from his travel expenses, received $32,492 in voucher reimbursements over a 12-month period.
Ranked fourth on the list was now former Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who was automatically kicked out of the chamber when he was convicted on corruption charges this month.
Here is the full list, which covers the reporting period of April 2012 through March 2013, via The Empire Center for Public Policy.
Mar 26th - 2:06 pm
Assemblyman William Scarborough insisted he had not abused the Assembly’s system for travel per diems and that the raid from federal agents stemmed from a misunderstanding from a tabloid “hit job.”
“I believe I have acted in accordance of the law,” Scarborough said. “We’ll see. They didn’t give me very much. I can only go based on what I was told. I don’t think this is warranted.”
Scarborough’s office in Albany, as well as his home and motel room, were raided by FBI agents on Wednesday. He said law enforcement officials first contacted him this morning at 5:45 to raid his Howard Johnson motel room in Albany.
First elected in 1995, the Democrat represents the Jamaica section of Queens.
Agents were seen taking boxes with yellow “evidence” tape from his office.
Scarborough told reporters the investigation was over his use of per diems — travel voucher reimbursements for which he has received tens of thousands of dollars from over the last several years.
“I believe they represent a misunderstanding of the Assembly voucher system or misrepresentation of what I did,” he said.
He said the initial story from The New York Post was incorrect in its claims he had taken travel reimbursement funds without being in Albany.
“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong,” Scarborough said. “I believe this was based on what was an inaccurate report of about a year and half ago from a New York City tabloid.”
The lawmaker was not arrested, but indicated a possible indictment could come.
“What I was told was there might be indictments and I would not be one of them,” he said. “When I spoke with people here they seemed to have kind of tempered that statement.”
Scarborough said he was first issue subpoenas on the travel voucher some time ago, but “I did not think anything would come of it.”
“The reality is I don’t know of any corruption because if anything comes my way I try to get out of it,” he said.
The raid comes amid budget negotiations in Albany and as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders are discussing potential ethics reform legislation.
Lawmakers have said this week they expect a deal that could include a tightening of anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws, but Republicans in the Senate remain opposed to publicly financed political campaigns.
Albany has been wracked by multiple corruption scandals over the last several years, with three high-profile cases alone in 2013 resulting in the arrests of Sens. John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.
Stevenson, a Bronx Democrat, was jettisoned from the Assembly this year after he was found guilty of accepting bribes.
Cuomo last year created a Moreland Commission to probe legislative wrongdoing; Lawmakers say the panel does not have the power to subpoena their outside income and business interests.
Mar 26th - 1:02 pm
Boxes marked “evidence” were spotted leaving the Albany office of Queens Democratic Assemblyman Bill Scarborough on Wednesday after multiple sources said they had seen what appeared to be the FBI in the Legislative Office Building.
The boxes, sealed with yellow tape marked “evidence” were carried by multiple men out of Scarborough’s office.
A woman who answered the phone in Scarborough’s office referred Capital Tonight to the Assembly’s press office, which is yet to return calls seeking comment.
An aide who answered the door at Scarborough’s office said the lawmaker had not been arrested
Scarborough, first elected in 1995, represents the Jamaica section of Queens.
Update: Scarborough emerged from his office tell reporters that federal agents had indeed searched his office.
He told reporters he had done everything “in accordance with the law” and indicated they were looking into his use of per diems.
Mar 24th - 1:12 pm
A proposal that would link a tax credit for donations to public schools and fund private-school scholarships to the Dream Act is not “viable” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said on Monday after emerging from a closed-door meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I think that’s something the governor put on the table, but I’m not sure it’s a viable option,” Silver said.
Silver, who met separately with Cuomo after the governor huddled with Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein on the budget, indicated neither side would be in favor of the proposal.
“I’m not sure the Senate will accept it because so far they’ve been saying they won’t allow government funds,” he said.
Silver also indciated he had reservations about the education tax credit.
“I don’t think so because it doesn’t get to the people who need it,” he said.
The Dream Act would provide tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants, a bill that was voted down by the state Senate last week.
The education tax credit, a proposal lobbied for by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, would allow for private donations to public schools and create scholarship programs for needy students to receive access to private education, including parochial schools.
As for the Dream Act itself, Silver said he spoke at length with Cuomo about it.
“We’re just trying to find ways to make sure it’s in this budget,” Silver said.
Skelos and Klein said their separate meeting with Cuomo did not include discussions about the Dream Act.
Silver, asked why there were separate meetings, pointed to the Friday incident in which Skelos left the meeting complaining the speaker was focused too much on New York City issues in budget talks.
“Sometimes I think you accomplish more doing it separately,” Silver said. “Last Friday the senator was agitated about what was discussed and it’s just easier.”
Silver said he has not spoken to Skelos since the Friday meeting.
Mar 21st - 5:17 pm
Supporters of the Dream Act said they came away from a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopeful he was in their corner when it came to including the legislation in a final budget agreement.
“I think that we saw that he’s really demonstrating to us that it is a priority to him,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat who sponsors the legislation. “We take him at his word. We feel comfortable from our conversations that we can accomplish something in the budget.”
Lawmakers met with Cuomo and his top aides for about an hour on Friday afternoon in the Red Room. Initially they declined to speak on camera, but later dropped by our Capitol bureau to give their take on the meeting.
The meeting came on the cusp of Somos weekend in Albany.
Cuomo held a reception at the Executive Mansion for the lawmakers this afternoon as well.
The sit-down with Cuomo came after a vote this week in the Senate that saw the Dream Act fail to pass by two votes, despite a majority of lawmakers supporting the bill.
Advocates vowed that they would push Cuomo to take a more active role in backing the legislation, which Senate Republicans, along with a member of the mainline Democratic conference, oppose. A second Democrat who conferences with Republicans also voted against the bill.
“I think he was clear on the statement that he made about supporting the supporters of the Dream Act,” said Assemblyman Felix Oritz of Brooklyn. “I think the governor is clear that he is on our side.: