Debate Continues Over Campus Sexual Assault Bill

From the Morning Memo:

A top priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the post-budget legislative session has been an effort to curtail rape and sexual assault at private college campuses, but state lawmakers continue to have questions over the proposal’s potential consequences.

The measure would codify what has already been in place last year for the SUNY system and be expanded to impact private-college campuses and, supporters say, make New York one of the most stringent states when it comes to handling rape and assault at institutions of higher education.

Law enforcement, including the State Police, would have a greater role in investigating allegations of rape and assault.

But with 12 days to go in the legislative session, lawmakers continue to press their concerns over the details of the proposal first made by Cuomo at the beginning of the year.

“Definitions are very important,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “If things are too vague and not specific enough, that certainly leaves things open for misunderstanding, miscommunication and perhaps litigation. So, some of the concerns are around definitions.”

At the heart of the measure is provision that would require affirmative consent in sexual encounters. In an interview, Glick said the definitions of sexual encounters and interactions needs to be made as concise as possible.

“We want to make certain it’s fully understood what that means,” she said.

Along with the education investment tax credit and a plan to increase the age of criminal responsbility, the Enough Is Enough campaign has been a top, end-of-session priority for the governor after the passage of the state budget.

But working through the legal particulars of the plan has been a complicated task for state lawmakers already swamped with a number of nettlesome end-of-session issues.

Then there are concerns over whether the legislation would protect encounters involving those who gay, lesbian and transgender (Cuomo, a father of three teenage daughters, has frequently cited them when discussing the topic).

“We have to think broadly enough,” Glick said. “We want to make certain that people understand it’s also applied even handily to people who are LGBT — especially transgender youngsters.”

And there’s the issue of involving law enforcement — a provision included in the legislation so that college officials aren’t the only redress.

“Not everybody wants to proceed with a criminal case and we certainly don’t want to have young people live and repeat their story many, many times,” Glick said.

After Capital Tonight contacted Cuomo’s office to discuss the issues being raised, special advisor to the governor Christine Quinn in a phone interview responded the concerns.

Quinn said in the interview that she agrees “100 percent” with the concerns that if the legislation isn’t frame properly, sexual assault and rape will continue to plague campuses.

That being said, Quinn insisted the language is written so it is “completely inclusive” for all involved, including members of the LGBT community.

“Every unwanted sexual encounter, as is the case at SUNY, is covered,” Quinn said. “There are not particular sex acts that are not covered and sex acts that are covered — that is not the legislative case at all.”

Meanwhile, involving law enforcement remains an option, just not for the college administration.

“It is a survivor’s choice to go to the police,” Quinn said. “It is never government’s choice to mandate that. That does not take the power or the voice away from survivors. They have the right if they so choose to go to college police, local police or the state police. That decision rests with them 100 percent.”

As for the definition of affirmative consent in the legislation, Quinn said the language, which was already in place at large university centers like SUNY Albany, have been effective.

“We have seen it be a much more effective set of definitions than other college campuses that we have seen at other college campuses,” she said.

Though time is short with the legislative session ending on June 17, Quinn said she is “extraordinarily optimistic” the bill will be approved.

“This will be the toughest rape and sexual assault campus law in the country,” she said. “When we do it, we’ll get the rest of the states in the union to do and bring a greater level of safety to our college campuses.”

Property Tax Cap Extension Debate Continues

From the Morning Memo:

The state’s cap on property tax increases doesn’t expire until next year, but some lawmakers at the Capitol are already looking to make the measure first passed in 2011 a permanent one.

“Making the property tax permanent is in the best interests of the taxpayers and the people of the state of New York.

The state Senate on Wednesday voted for a bill that would create a permanent extension of the cap, which limits local levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

It’s a key provision this year, especially for upstate and suburban Republican lawmakers.

“Keeping property taxes down has been a priority for me in the Senate and something I’ll continue to advocate for,” said Sen. Patty Ritchie, a North County Republican.

The drive to make the tax cap permanent, through a straight extension, is also backed by statewide and regional business groups, who argue it will bring a new level of certainty to businesses that want to settle in New York.

But it’s a different case in the Assembly, led by Democrats, who question the need to make the cap a permanent fixture.

“I’m actually a big fan of sun setting more legislation than not simply because as circumstances change it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and amendments as time goes on,” Majority Leader Joe Morelle said.

And Democrats in the chamber are suggesting that some changes could be made and school aid should be boosted as well to help districts budget within the cap.

“I think that the cap has been an effective tool, but we need to make sure we do the rest of here at the state, make sure that critical state aid is going to our schools, make sure they’re properly funded,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a Schenectady Democrat.

There is a growing drive from local government advocates as well to make some changes to the cap that could be coupled with mandate relief or even a boost in state aid.

For now, lawmakers have said the discussions do not center around linking the cap’s renewal to mandate relief provisions.

The vast majority of school districts this week had their budgets approved by voters and nearly 99 percent all budgeted within the legal limit. An override is possible, but only with a 60 percent majority.

While the cap doesn’t expire this year, it is linked to rent control regulations for New York City, which are due to lapse next month. Extending rent control is a top priority for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“The Senate has a list, we have a list and where we can come to an agreement on some of the things we want, that’s what usually happens,” Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs a permanent property tax cap, which as a signature economic achievement from his first term.

Gianaris Compares Cuomo To Scott Walker

From the Morning Memo:

Queens Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris in an interview on Monday compared Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform policies to anti-labor measures being enacted under Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

“Resources are being diverted out of the public school system to private schools, an attack on the teachers who sacrifice so much to work in our schools,” Gianaris said on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “If I wanted Scott Walker to be the governor, I’d move to Wisconsin. But we’re here in New York. I think we should be a progressive champion that stands up for working people who stand up for public schools first and foremost and then we should help the entire school system.”

The comment underscores the deepening level of antipathy from Senate Democrats in the mainline conference toward Cuomo, who this year has pursued efforts to make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure and overall the teacher evaluation criteria, which is linked to tenure.

Senate Democrats have already this year taken a more assertive posture to Cuomo on several issues, including education.

The Gianaris comment is the start of a renewed focus on education in the post-budget session for the conference as Democrats there are expected to roll out a series of what one official called “legislative fixes” to the measures included in the budget.

Cuomo has been at odds with the New York State United Teachers union since even before taking office. But this year has brought a new level of debate over the direction of education in the state.

After achieving the passage of a new evaluation system that will rely on a mix on at least one standardized test and in-classroom observation, the governor is renewing his focus to areas NYSUT has opposed, including a lifting of the cap on charter schools and a $150 million education investment tax credit, which is strongly backed by private and parochial schools.

“The hostility to public schools is alarming,” Gianaris added in the interview.

NYSUT and their city partners at the United Federation of Teachers have supported Senate Democratic candidates politically and spent heavily last year on behalf of challengers and freshman candidates.

Senate Democrats aren’t the only ones seeking changes to what was approved in the budget: Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have introduced bills aimed at extending the deadline for developing regulations for the teacher evaluations as well unlinking the enactment of the standards on the local level to a boost in school aid.

Cuomo and the administration have argued the policies included in the budget do benefit public education and public school teachers, including bonuses for high-performing teachers and free tuition to state schools for people on track to become teachers.

New York Democrats Meet Amid Challenging Year For Cuomo

From the Morning Memo:

It was only a year ago that Gov. Andrew Cuomo triumphantly appeared at the state Democratic convention in Suffolk County, re-nominated for a second term by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, his political frienemy, who vouched for the governor’s liberal bona fides.

A year later, state Democrats convened in Albany for their spring meeting.

There was little talk about the long-term future: Will Cuomo head the party’s ticket for a third time in 2018, or will it be someone else, like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman or U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand? (both have denied interest in the job).

Instead, there was a lot of talk about what the governor has done in recent months and what he wants to do by the end of June.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in her remarks praised what she called Cuomo’s “courageous” ban on hydrofracking.

“That ought to get him a lot of support from people who understand he is putting our health and our safety and our welfare first,” Hochul said.

She also touted Cuomo’s creation of wage board for fast-food workers that is likely to recommend an increase in their wages, and in effort to combat poor conditions in nail salons.

“This is America and our governor calls them out on it every single time,” she said.

In the post-budget session, Cuomo is pushing an effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility for youthful offenders and combat sexual assault on college campuses through an affirmative consent bill.

Nevertheless, six months after his re-election victory is looking at the lowest approval ratings his tenure, according to a Marist College poll released this month.

Former Gov. David Paterson, the state Democratic Party chairman, says that’s normal.

“I think every governor hits a rough patch. I hit mine about 10 minutes after entering office,” Paterson cracked.

Nevertheless, Cuomo’s education policies this year has outraged a key Democratic Party constituency: the state teachers union.

“I understand that not everybody is going to agree with what the governor does,” Paterson said. “But you can’t fight the results he’s achieved and I hope that people who may have drawn conclusions will listen to all of what he’s saying.”

Cuomo’s truculent relationship with the teachers union is nothing new: The labor group NYSUT did not endorse him in 2010, nor did the union back his re-election in 2012.

Still, state lawmakers in both chambers are supporting changes to the education measures approved in the budget last month, including reforming the contentious teacher evaluation criteria and the regulation-making process.

Hochul insisted Cuomo remains committed to public education and public school teachers.

“He was a strong believer in giving parents choice (in education),” she said. “But that doesn’t not mean we aren’t fully behind the 85 percent of children in New York state who go to public schools.”

Cuomo is pushing forward on further changes: He wants to lift the cap on charter schools and create a $150 million education tax credit that is aimed at spurring donations to public schools and scholarships benefiting private education. The measures are opposed by the teachers unions.

“The political forces in Albany that are protecting the bureaucracy don’t want to see this happen,” Cuomo said.

The New York State United Teachers union on Monday launched a 10-day radio ad campaign opposing the education tax credit proposal.

Once Again, Dems Decline To Pass IDC Reunion Resolution

The state Democratic Committee once again declined on Monday to vote on a resolution calling on the five-member Independent Democratic Conference to rejoin the mainline conference in the state Senate.

The Progressive Caucus at the state Democratic meeting in Albany this morning withdrew the resolution from consideration before it could be voted on.

The resolution set aside today would have knocked the conference for acting as “a deterrent rather than a catalyst for passing progressive legislation in the New York State Senate, and has in fact only further strengthened the power of Republicans within that body.”

Democrats nearly a year ago also set aside a similar resolution calling on the IDC to rejoin the fold at their state convention.

Former Gov. David Paterson, the state committee chairman, framed the decision to not have a vote on the resolution as a way to avoid embarrassing the IDC.

“You don’t want to embarrass people for decisions they’ve made,” Paterson said. “You just wan to advise them on what the best decision is. We didn’t see any reason to publicly flog the members of the IDC.”

Paterson, a former minority leader of the state Senate, added it was understandable that a frustrated Sen. Jeff Klein broke away from the conference in 2011, taking at the time three members with him.

“At the time they started the IDC, they had very good reasons to do so. But right now, we think all of those issues have been removed,” Paterson said.

The IDC in 2012 formed a majority coalition power sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, who were in a numerical minority, but the alliance allowed the GOP to retain the trappings of power in the chamber.

Once the Senate Republicans gained a full majority, Klein lost the title of co-president and the power to veto which bills come to the floor for a vote. Still, Klein remains close with the Republican conference and is expected to continue to play a key role for the Republicans in the Senate.

Resolution Progressive Caucus of the NYSD Oct 2013.Revised by Nick Reisman

The Final Countdown

From the Morning Memo:

Counting today, there are 15 days remaining in the 2015 legislative session, and things are heating up, with the Senate and Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo starting to lay out their respective agendas for the mad dash to the finish of what has been a very rocky year in Albany.

Yesterday, new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan released a list of his end-of-session priorities, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo did a whirlwind tour of four Brooklyn churches and a yeshiva to tout his latest version of the Education Investment Tax Credit, now known (with some additions and changes) as the Parental Choice in Education Act.

Also over the weekend, Flanagan introduced a bill that would make the 2 percent tax cap permanent – a top priority for the Senate GOP’s conservative and business allies. The Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a bill to extend the New York City rent laws for another four years and make them more tenant-friendly.

These two issues are linked, though the rent laws are scheduled to expire next month, and the cap won’t do so until next year.

When he ascended to the speaker’s post back in February, Carl Heastie said renewing and strengthening the city’s rent laws would be his “No. 1 priority” this session.

The “renewing” part is probably not going to be a problem with the Senate Republicans. With the exception of two lone NYC lawmakers – Sens. Marty Golden, of Brooklyn; and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island – the members of the GOP conference don’t have many (if any) constituents directly impacted by the laws.

But they did collectively benefit from well over $1 million from REBNY during the 2014 elections, which spent big to help the Republicans re-take the majority with an eye toward getting a clean extension – in other words, no pro-tenant changes – of the rent laws this year.

Also up for discussion is the controversial 421-a tax abatement program, which has been a boon to big NYC developers, who, in turn, have given big bucks across the board in Albany.

With the role played by developer Glenwood Management in the federal corruption scandals of both ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, advocates are hoping some rent law reforms could be had.

But the fact that Flanagan did not mention the issue in his priority list statement released yesterday was not a good sign, though he has said since ascending to the majority leader’s post that he expects both the rent laws and New York City mayoral control, which is also set to sunset next month, will likely be extended before the session’s scheduled end on June 17.

The Senate Republicans are likely going to push for unspecified changes to mayoral control to improve transparency and accountability, which is not going to sit too terribly well with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies in the Assembly Democratic conference.

Flanagan did include “common sense” reforms to the SAFE Act on his to do list – a nod to the conservative upstaters who did not support him during the battle to replace Skelos as leader because of his “yes” vote on the controversial gun control law.

The likelihood of the governor and Democrat-controlled Assembly signing off on any SAFE Act modifications is fairly low.

One conservative Republican lawmaker, Assemblyman Bill Nojay, of Livingston County, is suggesting Flanagan hold the rent laws hostage in exchange for SAFE Act reforms. But that seems like an extreme, playing-with-fire sort of approach that would not benefit the newly-minted majority leader – especially not as he looks toward what will be a difficult election year in 2016.

The Senate Republicans and the governor are on the same page – at least conceptually – when it comes to the education tax credit. This issue creates a problem for Heastie, who used to be a sponsor of legislation to enact the credit, but took his name off that – and all other bills – when he became speaker.

Mike Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, is quoted in the NY Times this morning that there has “not been sufficient support” in the conference for the tax credit, though some members – especially in poorer, urban areas – have been under intense pressure to back it.

Whyland also said Heastie would not allow the tax credit to be linked to passage of any other legislation – like, say, mayoral control of the New York City school system, which some are suggesting could be linked to raising the charter school cap, another issue pushed without success by Cuomo during the budget battle.

Cuomo tried unsuccessfully during the budget to link the education tax credit, which is a problem in the Assembly majority conference; to the DREAM Act, which is a problem in the Senate majority conference. Playing the two sides against one another didn’t work in that instance. We’ll see what ends up in the so-called, end-of-session “big ugly.”

The Assembly Democrats and Senate GOP are in agreement – again, conceptually – when it come to revisiting the education reforms, especially the teacher performance evaluation system, they agreed to in the budget deal. This is likely to be an uphill battle with Cuomo, for whom the education reforms were a bright spot in a budget that saw many of his policy priorities shunted aside.

Squadron: ‘Insane’ LLC Loophole Still Around

From the Morning Memo:

Even before the state Board of Elections and a Republican-led Senate panel put the kibosh on the latest efforts to restrict LLC political giving, the effort was gaining traction as the cause de jour among good-government advocates.

“The reason the LLC loophole is getting so much focus is it’s insane that it has been allowed to continue as long as it has,” Sen. Daniel Squadron said in an interview on our streaming blog show, State of Politics Live.

The campaign finance reform world has turned to the LLC loophole this year after attempts at broader reforms — such public financing of political campaigns — has seemingly dropped off the radar following Republicans gaining full control of the Senate.

Still, supporters seized on the LLC bill passing in the Assembly this week, 120-8.

“In the Assembly it’s got bipartisan support,” Squadron said. “In the Senate, Republican majority is working to kill it.”

Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, pushed this week have a vote in the Senate Corporations Committee to consider his bill, which would reclassify limited liability companies as corporations under the campaign finance law in order to close what many campaign finance advocates see as a major loophole in the current law.

Due to a 1996 reading of a later changed federal rule, a single contributor can give well above the legal limit to political campaigns and causes in New York through a network of LLCs.

In the interview, Squadron indicated that the process in which the bill was killed is important: stuck in a committee after its chairman, Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, said the proper paperwork had not been filed to move the bill through; Squadron insists the bill could have and should have been included on the agenda.

“This is not an issue that’s complicated to solve. It’s an issue that’s getting caught up in the politics of Albany,” he said.

The Board of Elections last month deadlocked on a resolution that would have reclassified LLCs and prevented the practice. Commissioners opposed to the measure said at the time it was up to the Legislature to write campaign finance laws, not a state agency tasked with overseeing elections.

Squadron, however, disagrees.

“Either way is appropriate,” he said. “The fact that the Board of Elections claimed they didn’t have the authority to do it is an irony of the highest degree. It’s ironies piling on top of absurdities.”

Heastie: Assembly Will Pass Pension Amendment

A constitutional amendment that would bar public officials convicted of a felony from receiving their pensions remains under discussion, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Tuesday.

“We’re still talking, so we don’t know what the final product is going to be, but we’re going to do something on pension forfeiture,” Heastie said.

First passage of the measure, which was part of the 2015-16 state budget talks, was already achieved in the Senate back in March when the spending plan was approved.

But labor union officials have raised issues with the bill and pointed to what they believe is overly broad language that could apply not just elected officials convicted of corruption, but all public employees and any type of felony conviction.

Heastie insisted on Tuesday first passage of an amendment dealing with the issue will be taken before June 17, the final day of the legislative session.

“We’ve made an agreement that we will pass a constitutional amendment resolution on pension forfeiture and we still believe we’re going to do that,” Heastie said. “We’re speaking with the governor. There’s a little bit of a delay and we’re starting to engage with the Senate. But we’ve made very clear we will not leave here in June without passing something with pension forfeiture.”

Republican supporters of the amendment, meanwhile, wonder what’s taking so long.

“This is an old issue that finally got traction as part of the budget process,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “Here we are now in mid-May and the Assembly is yet to bring this bill to the floor for a vote.”

Stec added: “Did we or didn’t we have a deal on this point at the close of the budget negotiations? Apparently not.”

The amendment would require the approval from a separately elected Legislature seated after the 2016 elections. Voters would then have to approve the amendment in a referendum.

The amendment was pushed for by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year following the arrest and subsequent indictment of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who resigned as speaker of the chamber.

Silver faces charges of extortion and fraud.

Heastie: EITC Remains ‘A Challenge’ For Assembly

From the Morning Memo:

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo moves to rebrand the education investment tax credit, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie this week signaled the measure remains a heavy lift in the Democratic-led chamber.

Cuomo unveiled a revised version of the legislation on Tuesday, which would provide $150 million in tax credits annually for donations that benefit public and private schools, and encourage low-income students to attend either a private school or a public school in another district.

The bill would also provide a credit for teachers who purchase school supplies.

But the EITC itself remains controversial for some Assembly Democrats as well as the statewide teachers union, the New York State United Teachers.

“Those subjects are challenging in our conference to say the least,” Heastie said.

The investment tax credit was linked in the state budget talks to the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Cuomo on Tuesday made appearances both on Long Island and in Buffalo alongside Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the most prominent booster for the tax credit who has criticized Albany inaction on the issue.

Senate Republicans have previously approved the stand-alone version of the bill.

Heastie said the Democratic conference remains opposed the linkage of the two issues, and the revised bill’s passage remains in doubt in the Assembly.

Even if supporters can muster the needed votes, Heastie indicated that bringing the bill to the floor would require a majority of the Democratic conference’s support.

“It’s been our position that there is a majority for a reason and we feel that to really move bills in this house we should have a consensus of enough Democrats to pass the bill,” he said.

Democrats Step Up Skelos Attacks

From the Morning Memo:

Democrats over the weekend indicated they have no plans to let individual Senate Republicans off the hook in the chamber’s leadership battle.

County-level Democratic chairs, as well as old candidates, released statements singling out individual lawmakers for their stated support of Dean Skelos, the embattled majority leader who faces a half-dozen federal corruption charges.

The statements signal the hope for Senate Democrats that Skelos will continue to be a political liability for Republicans in the chamber, who are likely moving to elect a new leader later on Monday.

For instance, Democrats on Sunday knocked Brooklyn Sen. Martin Golden, one of two New York City Republicans in the chamber, for signing on to a statement of public support for Skelos.

“Senator Golden has been playing the game for a very long time and knows all too well the State Senate cannot function while its Majority Leader is facing serious criminal charges including bribery and extortion. Yet, once again, Senator Golden stands proudly defiant as Albany descends into chaos and the hardworking people of Brooklyn’s 22nd Senate District hang in the balance,” a spokesman for the Bay Ridge Democrats said.

A similar sentiment was shared by Adam Haber, the Nassau County Democrat who failed in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Jack Martins. Haber plans to hold a 9 a.m. news conference in the district to call attention to the leadership question in the chamber.

And in some cases, it doesn’t matter if the Republican has called on Skelos to step aside as leader.

Former Sen. Terry Gipson, a Democratic freshman who lost his seat last year to Republican Sue Serino, also released a statement calling for Skelos’s resignation.

“It is imperative that Senator Skelos do the right thing and step down from his post as Majority Leader while he addresses these charges,” he said last week. “It is my hope that his Republican colleagues will echo this call and that our state legislators will put politics aside and come together to address the campaign finance and ethics issues that malign our state government once and for all. The people of New York deserve nothing less.”

The effort comes as Democrats on Monday have signaled plans to once again push for a resolution that would oust Skelos as leader of the chamber.

With at least nine Republicans supporting Skelos’s resignation, mathematically the resolution could be successful if put to a vote.