Assembly

Assembly Dems To Include Med-Mar In Budget Bill

The one-house budget bill submitted by the Assembly Democrats next week will include a revised version of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.

Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who has long championed med-mar, confirmed that this is the first time in Albany history that the provision has been included in a budget bill by his conference.

“Unless something dramatic changes, yes, that is the plan,” Gottfried told me during a telephone interview this afternoon. “It’s my bill with some changes that we’ve worked up over the last couple of weeks that would have eventually gone into my bill except we’re putting them into the one-house instead…By putting it in our budget bill, we jump start a three-way discussion.”

“People might ask: Why does this belong in the budget? The answer is: When creating a new state program that’s going to cost money to administer and create a new source of state revenue, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in a budget bill.”

One change was to have the excise tax proposed in Gottfried’s bill (being carried in the state Senate by IDC Sen. Diane Savino) from a certain number of dollars per pound to a percentage of the dispensing price. This was necessary, Gottfried said, because the sponsors realized that “a pound of dried leaf and a pound of oil extract are very different and should not be taxed the same.”

The other, more substantive change was the addition of provisions to speed up – at least on a temporary basis – the recognition of organizations that are registered to dispense medical marijuana. The way the bill had been written, it could take a year or two before product was available to patients, Gottfried said, due to the time required to write regulations, process registration applications and grow the plants.

How quickly marijuana could get into the hands of the people who need it remains something of an unanswerable question, due to the fact that the federal government would have to sign off if New York is to procure product from states where it is already legal.

“In order for this concept to work, we would have to get the Department of Justice to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong if the product goes from one tightly regulated state to another tightly regulated state,” Gottfried said. “Because if not, there’s really no practical way anyone can think of to make product quickly available…And I really do not want to see babies dying for a year or two while they’re waiting for New York to get its system up and running.”

There has been considerable movement on med-mar in recent weeks in the Senate, with several Republicans expressing support for the Compassionate Care Act. This is widely attributed to the strong lobbying efforts put forth by a group of Western New York parents whose children suffer from devastating seizures, either caused by epilepsy or a disorder known as Dravet’s syndrome.

At least one Republican senator – Patrick Gallivan – has said he supports a very limited bill that would legalize a high CBD, low THC oil type of medical marijuana. In Colorado, it’s known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome and was the first patient who had success with the treatment.

Gottfried said he considers it “inhumane” to patients who would need different kinds of med-mar treatment – like smoking to offset the nausea brought on by chemo, for example – to severely limit access to just one or a few types of the plant, adding: “It’s highly unlikely you could ever develop a production process in New York just to serve a dozen patients.”

The Assembly budget bill will not include any money in the coming fiscal year for med-mar, Gottfried said, because the assumption is that there will be little – if any – initial cost in setting up a med-mar system. The cost – as yet unknown – would ramp up in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the assumption is that it would be more than covered by the revenue generated once the system gets up and running – revenue that Gottfried said could “possibly” exceed $100 million a year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a limited medical marijuana plan in his budget proposal that would be established via executive order, reviving a 1980s-era law that has been dormant for years. Gottfried and others panned this approach as cumbersome and too limited in scope. Asked if the the administration has taken any steps to implement the governor’s plan, Gottfried replied:

“If you find the name of anyone in the Health Department who’s working on this project, would you let me know? I’ve been trying very hard to find out that name, and so far I’ve gotten no response.”

The administration has indicated, through top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, that the governor would “support” the Compassionate Care Act if it passes both houses and ends up on his desk.

Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos appears to have softened his stance on med-mar, saying he’s now open to legalizing marijuana-based oils and possibly vaporizers, but still doesn’t like the idea of “public smoking.” Skelos also has not yet agreed to letting a bill to legalize med-mar come to the floor for a vote.

Boyland Convicted On Corruption Charges, Booted From Assembly

Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman William Boyland on Thursday was convicted of all corruption charges, automatically removing him from his state Assembly seat.

From our NY1 colleagues:

The Brooklyn lawmaker was accused of trying to solicit bribes in exchange for political favors.

Prosecutors say Boyland tried to extort payments from multiple people, including undercover agents.

His defense team argued the 43-year-old Boyland never intended to produce anything in exchange for money.

Boyland represents parts of central Brooklyn in the State Legislature and comes from a politically influential family.

He faces up to 30 years behind bars.

With Boyland gone, the conviction creates yet another vacancy in the Assembly.

There are 10 empty seats in the chamber. Three of them, counting Boyland, were creating by scandal: Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned amid multiple complaints over sexual harassment, while Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was convicted of accepting bribes for writing favorable legislation.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call a special election to fill the seats; Cuomo is yet to do so.

The state Senate has two vacancies following the election of Sen. Eric Adams to the Brooklyn borough presidency and the resignation of Sen. Chuck Fuschillo to lead the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Assembly Passes Common Core Delay Bill

The Democratic-led Assembly approved a measure on Wednesday that would delay the implementation of Common Core standards for teacher evaluations and student assessments for the next two years.

The bill, which passed 117-10, is a direct rebuke at the state’s much-maligned roll out of the standards by the Department of Education.

At the same time, the measure addresses privacy concerns raised by the collection of student data through an online portal — a move that will be pushed back from September to July 2015.

“I think we’ve finally recognized that it is going to take legislation to finally put the breaks on what has been a debacle,” said Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy.

While Senate Republicans have rejected the Assembly bill directly, they have not taken up the legislation in that chamber.

An amendment from Assembly Republicans that would have withdrew the state temporarily from Common Core entirely, was beat back by Democrats who claimed it would have resulted in the loss of federal funds.

Still, the concerns over the Common Core roll out of united the strange political bedfellows of conservatives in the Legislature and lawmakers who are generally supportive of teachers unions.

“The roll out of the Titanic went better than the Common Core,” Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin said on the floor during the debate over the amendment.

The measure itself that was approved wasn’t resoundingly embraced by rank-and-file Democrats, either. Assembly sources said the reaction to the bill in a closed-door conference was mixed at best, with some members register problems with the scope of the legislation.

“It doesn’t cover everything, but at least it gets us closer to somewhere toward reform,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes during the floor debate.

The measure comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created an education panel to study and recommend changes to the implementation of the standards.

He wants a legislative package to be voted on by June, but some observers at the Capitol believe the standards could be packaged together in the budget negotiations.

The governor has strongly registered his opposition to any changes to the teacher evaluation law approved last year.

Silver Hints At Common Core Bill Changes

After Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly huddled privately to discuss a bill that would delay Common Core implementation until 2016, Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday suggested changes to the measure may come.

No vote on the bill is expected today.

The proposal would delay Common Core implementation for teacher evaluations and student assessment by two years, and the roll out of a student data sharing program through July 2015.

Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, have been non-committal on the moratorium bill, but have not ruled out a delay in Common Core implementation for at least two years.

While lawmakers have been pushing for Common Core changes, Assembly Democrats on Monday in conference had a mixed reaction to the bill, which was introduced over the weekend. Several lawmakers who don’t usually speak at the closed-door meeting did register issues with the legislation.

While changes may come, Silver said the broad parameters of the bill are what parents want.

“We’re not going to vote on it today,” Silver told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re going to move it along, see if there are any changes that are necessary. I think it covers what parents in this state are talking about — that this is something that may be good in the long run, however the implementation of it was flawed.”

Silver also shrugged off the dueling rallies between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo appeared at a rally for charter schools as de Blasio seeks to scale back the available space in New York City.

De Blasio, meanwhile, was up the street from Cuomo in Albany to attend a rally backing his proposal for universal pre-K.

“That’s Albany,” Silver said. “Everyone has a right to say what they want to say. We have brochures, you can lobby Albany. That’s it, at its finest.”

Silver: ‘The Conference Will Make A Determination’

Before entering the closed-door conference with rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver said the bill aimed at delaying the implementation of Common Core for teacher evaluations and student assessment remains consistent with the chamber’s concerns.

“We’re going to take it up in conference and put it out,” Silver told reporters. “But we’re just thinking what we’ve always said: The implementation was flawed, people weren’t ready for it. Students weren’t ready for it.”

The measure would delay Common Core implementation until 2016 for teacher evaluations and student assessments as well as delay the sharing of student data via an online portal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to slow the implementation of Common Core and is turning to an education panel to make recommendations, but he is staunchly against alterations to the teacher evaluation law.

Asked about that opposition on Monday Silver said, “The conference will make a determination.”

Nolan Touts Privacy Protections In Common Core Bill

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan told reporters this afternoon the measure to delay Common Core implementation was introduced to “address the concerns” raised by constituents over the standards and the roll out.

“I think the speaker and the members of the Assembly feel the need to address the concerns of the people we’ve heard from throughout our district,” she said following a news conference featuring the Campaign For Fiscal Equity’s presentation on school funding.

The Assembly Democratic conference is expected to meet to discuss the measure later today.

“The bill is introduced, we’re obviously going to be talking with members about the bill,” she said.

The measure is yet to gain a Senate sponsor, but she said talks are underway on the bill.

“I think that there will be at some point,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people express interest.”

During a question-and-answer session, Nolan repeatedly referred reporters to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office when asked about specifics on the legislation.

But she did tout the privacy protections included in the measure, including the delay of the implementation of the online-data portal that is aimed at collecting student information, which was set to begin in September of this year, which would take effect in July 2015.

“We have to do something to protect peoples privacy at the local level and give parents more say about what information is shipped out to a private company, I might add,” she said.

No Vote Expected Today On Common Core Bill

A bill that would delay the implementation of the Common Core standards for teacher evaluations and student assessment is not expected to be voted on later today, an Assembly official said.

The Democratic conference is expected to meet and discuss the bill late this afternoon, around 5 p.m.

The legislation would delay the broad strokes of Common Core implementation, including testing students in grades three through eight, and prohibit the standards from being used to evaluate student and teacher performance until 2016.

The measure also calls for moratorium until July 2015 of the implementation of the online-data portal that is aimed at collecting student information, which was set to begin in September of this year.

The bill is yet to have a Senate sponsor.

But the legislation comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created his own education panel to make legislative recommendations for changes to Common Core implementation, which he wants voted on by the end of the legislative session, due to conclude in June.

Parents and teachers unions have complained the state’s roll out of Common Core, handled by the state Education Department, was poorly planned and implemented too swiftly with an over-emphasis on testing.

The Board of Regents this month approved some changes to the Common Core roll out that would slow the implementation.

Common Core by Nick Reisman

Silver Bemoans Moreland ‘Fishing Expedition’

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s panel to investigate corruption a “fishing expedition” that has gone beyond its authority in investigative legislative corruption.

The Assembly will spend an additional $300,000 of taxpayer money defending itself against the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption’s subpoenas to gain more information on lawmakers’ outside income.

Silver, at a news conference on Tuesday for the Dream Act legislation, seemingly read a word-for-word statement when asked about the commission.

“The Assembly will do what’s appropriate to do, it’s important to root our corruption. But the commission we believe has exceeded its mandated and has been engaged in a fishing expedition to intimidate legislators and the state is spending a great deal of money to conduct this fishing expedition,” he said. “I think that so far the greatest result they have come to is what this conference has been saying and doing for the past 25 years — public campaign financing.”

“I’m glad that the Moreland Commission has agreed with that,” he added.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal includes a public financing system similar to New York City’s system, along with a series of ethics and anti-bribery measures.

The commission was formed last year following no legislative responses to a string of corruption cases in the Senate and Assembly.

Silver: ‘Startling’ That Senate Hasn’t Passed The Dream Act

It’s “startling” the Senate is yet to approve legislation that would give the children of undocumented immigrants access to state tuition assistance, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday said.

The Democratic-led Assembly is expected to once again approve the Dream Act legislation later this afternoon, and will insert the measure into its one-house budget proposal as it did last year.

The program that is expected to cost about $27 million, Silver said.

At a news conference flanked by members of his Democratic conference and advocates for the bill, Silver said their is a pro-business argument to be made for the bill, namely that the private sector will benefit from a more educated workforce.

“It’s startling the Senate is yet to take up this legislation,” he said. “This is not a state that can afford to waste bright young minds.”

The picture is a bit more complicated in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a breakaway conference of four Democrats that have formed a majority coalition.

Several Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns with the measure, though Sen. George Latimer recently announced they would support the bill.

Supporters of the bill in the Assembly, including Queens Democrat Francisco Moya, said they were yet to identify potential “yes” votes on the Republican side of the aisle in the state Senate.

Silver remained optimistic the measure would be included in the final budget agreement, due by April 1, though he would say if he would hold out for the legislation to be included in the final spending plan.

“I don’t have the privilege of negotiating a budget with you,” he said to a reporter.

As for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, advocates were enthused when he indicated last week he would sign the legislation if it is approved the Senate this year. Still, Cuomo has not emphasized the Dream Act in his public announcements, nor did he include the measure in his budget or 30-day amendments.

Assembly Retains Harassment Investigators

The state Assembly has taken out two contracts worth $205,000 for independent counsel “related to sexual harassment policy development and investigations,” according to the state comptroller’s office on Tuesday.

The contracts, made with Rossein Associates, come following a spate of sexual harassment scandals to hit the Democratic-led chamber that have led to the resignations of Brooklyn’s Vito Lopez and western New York lawmaker Dennis Gabryszak.

Records filed with the state comptroller’s office show $140,017 in taxpayer funds have been spent since the firm was retained in the fall, which is run by a CUNY law professor who specializes in harassment cases.

The contract’s listing was included in a news released by the comptroller’s office detailing recent state contracts found in the Open Book database.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came under fire for his handling of the Lopez harassment case, especially the $103,000 in secret settlement money approved for Lopez’s victims.

Silver has apologized for keeping the case confidential, but says no laws were broken by him or his top aides.

Lopez resigned following an ethics investigation that found he broke the public officers law.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, accused of harassment aides in his office, is appealing a decision from Silver’s office that stripped him of his chairmanship and is reducing his staff allocation through attrition. Kellner is not running for re-election to the Assembly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal includes money for a toll-free number to be run by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics for state employees to report sexual harassment.