State Senate

Biz Council Raises Concerns With Procurement Bill

The Business Council is seeking changes to a bill that would restore power to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office in reviewing procurement and state contracting for economic development projects.

The bill, backed by Republican Sen. John DeFranciso, cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

In a statement, a Business Council spokesman said some of the measures are “impractical and unnecessary.”

“We have highlighted several issues we have with the legislation and are in discussions with both the Senate sponsor and the Comptroller’s office,” said spokesman Zack Hutchins.

The bill is being pushed by lawmakers in the post-budget legislative session. It was initially proposed last year following the arrests of a half dozen developers and a former aide close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democrats Push Voting Reforms

Democratic lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday pushed for measures that would make it easier to vote in New York, bills that fell by the wayside during the budget talks.

The measures include early voting, automatic registration and electronic poll books.

“We are ready, willing and committed to get this done before June,” said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. “What we need is the Senate.”

Republicans in the Senate, who hold a narrow majority, have questioned the voting measures as backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the budget.

But on Tuesday, Senate Democrats placed pressure on Cuomo and the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference to move the issue forward.

“Obviously we need the other conferences in the Senate to get with the program,” Kavanagh said at a news conference. “There is very much an appetite for doing this in Albany this year. We just need a portion of the Senate and the governor to work with us.”

Cuomo earlier this month told reporters he was skeptical measures such as voting and ethics reforms could pass in the Legislature, a position Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins rejected.

“I’ve heard the governor say there was no appetite in the past and we’ve pushed and we’ve gotten things done,” she said. “We can do it. The Senate Democrats have been pushing for this forever. People can step up.”

Senate Eyes Procurement Reform

From the Morning Memo:

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday will consider a bill that would re-establish power to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to oversee procurement in certain economic development projects.

It’s a dry sounding topic, sure, but it carries implications for economic development oversight going forward and is indicative of the ongoing fallout from the contentious budget process in Albany that wrapped up 10 days into the state’s fiscal year.

The procurement measure comes after a half dozen prominent upstate developers, ex-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros and former close gubernatorial aide Joe Percoco were charged in a bribery and bid-rigging case.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the aftermath proposed his own procurement changes to oversee contracting the established new posts, including a chief procurement officer.

But DiNapoli, a rival of the governor’s, had urged lawmakers to take up legislation that would re-authorize his office to have jurisdiction over contracting at SUNY construction projects — power that he was stripped of in 2011.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who had been sharply critical of Cuomo during the budget talks, said the bill being considered today by Finance Committee is a basic reform he says is needed.

“I think that’s a reform that’s important. I think it’s a reform because you have to have some type of oversight for that,” said DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse. “I don’t think we’ve worked out all the details, but I’m looking forward to dealing with the Assembly.”

Good-government organizations are pushing the bill, too, after lawmakers and Cuomo did not agree to any ethics law changes in the state budget as initially proposed by the governor.

Cuomo said the Legislature didn’t have an appetite for the proposed changes, which included constitutional amendments for term limits, limiting private-sector income and bills aimed at making it easier to vote in New York.

DeFran: Legislature Working On Comptroller Procurement Legislation

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco has reached out to his counterpart in the Democratic-controlled Assembly to iron out differences on a bill that would restore oversight powers to the state comptroller’s office.

DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who has been at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he spoke with Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle during the Legislature’s break this month on the bill aimed at enhancing oversight to the governor’s key economic development programs.

“I think that’s a reform that’s important. I think it’s a reform because you have to have some type of oversight for that,” DeFrancisco said. “I don’t think we’ve worked out all the details, but I’m looking forward to dealing with the Assembly.”

He added, “Their house is interested in working something out.”

A Senate version of the bill is set to be considered on Tuesday before the chamber’s Finance Committee.

The bill would restore authority to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to oversee procurement and contracting under certain economic development projects. At the time, DiNapoli was stripped of that oversight ability as lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to streamline the economic development spending process.

DiNapoli and Cuomo have had a tense relationship.

But a corruption scandal last year — engulfing a former close aide to the governor, prominent upstate developers and the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic — has caused lawmakers to reconsider oversight.

“We limited that in some of the governor’s economic development programs,” DeFrancisco said. “That was a big mistake. Quite frankly, I don’t know if I voted for it. If I did I must have been sleeping at the time, because it’s something that I think is important.”

DiNapoli last week said he was disappointed the budget didn’t include any oversight reforms and was hopeful a push could be made in the post-budget portion of the legislative session.

SD-30: Benjamin Endorsed By 1199

Democratic state Senate candidate Brian Benjamin was endorsed on Monday by 1199 SEIU, the influential labor union.

Benjamin is running for the 30th Senate district in Manhattan that was vacated earlier this year by Bill Perkins, who is now on the City Council.

“Healthcare workers are excited to support Brian Benjamin, a candidate who will bring fresh ideas and a depth of experience to the New York State Senate” said Helen Schaub, New York State Policy and Legislative Director of 1199SEIU. “As an organizer and community leader in upper Manhattan, Brian has advocated for greater economic opportunity and affordable housing, better wages and a more level playing field for all. He’s made clear his commitment to New York’s working families, and we are proud to offer our support.”

Benjamin, who has publicly stated he will join the mainline Democratic conference in the chamber, is the odds-on favorite to retain the seat for the party.

“My mother and father both immigrated to America in search of opportunity, and they found it thanks to organized labor,” Benjamin said. “Years of hard work and union support enabled them to achieve their dreams and provide for our family. I’m honored to have the confidence and support of 1199SEIU, and look forward to fighting for quality healthcare and the promise that with hard work, everyone can achieve the quality of life they deserve.”

Hamilton: Make Sure Raise The Age Is Implemented

Sen. Jesse Hamilton in a statement on Wednesday urged the full implementation of the raise the age agreement in the state budget, including the provision that would remove 16 and 17-year-old inmates from Rikers Island.

The agreement on setting the age of criminal responsibility to 18 includes removing minors from Rikers Island by next year.

“Passing Raise the Age took our collective determination. Determination that young people receive the opportunity to get on the right track and become productive New Yorkers. Determination that our justice system turn away from an unjust and unwise course and turn towards compassion and common sense,” said Hamilton, a Brooklyn Democrat and member of the Independent Democratic Conference.

“We take that same determination and turn it toward seeing Raise the Age through in full. Raise the Age is an important milestone, we remain focused on the milestones ahead and upholding values that will make for a more just justice system in New York State.”

Advocates for the issue during the budget talks had pointed to the case of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old Rikers inmate who spent three years in the facility without being charged. He committed suicide two years after his release.

“Over the past decade, research on adolescent brain development and on recidivism have confirmed the moral truth that kids should be treated like kids. This is a critical step towards protecting 16- and 17-year-olds from some of the most devastating effects of adult prosecution and incarceration,” said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent.

The agreement on raise the age in the budget did not please all involved and had been part of a complicated back and forth over which crimes should be tried in diversion courts or in the Family Court system.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo compared the accomplishment to other high-profile measures he’s secured victories on, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York.

State Senate Lawmakers Applaud Federal Bill Fighting Heroin Addiction

Republican state senators are cheering a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate that is aimed at combatting heroin and opioid addiction introduced this week.

The measure, backed by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona would limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven days — a proposal that had been proposed by the state Senate’s heroin task force. The measure was approved and signed into law in New York last year.

“We applaud the bipartisan actions of Senator Gillibrand and Senator McCain. The New York State Senate has been, and remains, leading the effort to curb the devastating scourge the heroin epidemic has caused in nearly every community within the Empire State,” said Sens. George Amedore, Terrence Murphy, Robert Ortt and Fred Akshar in a joint statement. “The seven day limit of opioid prescriptions for acute pain was a cornerstone piece of legislation passed into law last year.”

The lawmakers added the issue shouldn’t be a partisan one when it comes to heroin addiction.

“We offer our strong support and partnership to help advance this important initiative on the federal level,” they said/

Klein Needles Senate Democrats

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in an interview on Wednesday took a shot at the political efforts of the mainline conference in the state Senate, suggesting he should be put in charge of electing new members.

“I would love to spend money on electing Democrats and by the way maybe that’s the answer,” Klein said on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “Maybe myself and the IDC can takeover the political operation and maybe start winning elections.”

The proposal was made with a smile, suggesting the Bronx Democrat wasn’t being wholly serious. But it underscored the deep tensions that remain between the eight-member IDC and the mainline conference.

Specifically, Klein has been in conflict with Sen. Michael Gianaris, the deputy minority leader who chairs the Senate Democratic fundraising efforts.

Klein had led the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee until 2010, when the conference fell back into the minority. Mainline Democrats who remained pointed to Klein leaving the DSCC in debt after his departure.

In the interview, Klein was responding in part to questions over whether his conference empowers Republicans — who hold a slim majority in the Senate — over the interests of the Democrats in the Senate. The IDC has added three members in recent weeks from New York City, including newly elected Sen. Marisol Alcantara and Sens. Jose Peralta and Jesse Hamilton, who left the mainline conference for the IDC.

“As we keep it about the issues and as long as we keep moving New York state in the right direction, the best way is to be engaged, not sitting in a minority on the sidelines with 31 Democrats,” he said, adding, “The reason why we started at four and we’re now eight — we must be doing something right — is because it’s all about the issues.”

Sitting IDC members, including Klein himself and Queens Sen. Tony Avella, have been challenged in primaries. More primary challenges to the IDC may come next year, including a rumored bid by term-limited Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner against IDC member David Valesky.

“Most of the time, I spend most of my money and time defending myself and my members against Senate Democrats,” Klein said.

Still, there is a distrust of the IDC among the activist wing of the Democratic Party in New York.

The Three Parks Independent Democrats, a party club based on the Upper West Side, voted on a resolution on Wednesday that bars IDC members from speaking at their meetings or attending club events.

Diaz Latest State Lawmaker To Turn Sights On Council

Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz on Tuesday announced he will run for the New York City Council, making him the latest in a string of Albany lawmakers looking for work that is closer to home and with better pay.

“I enter into this new endeavor praying and hoping: that God will provide me with health and fortitude; that the residents of the 18th City Council District will place their trust in me; and that my friends and followers both inside and outside of the 18th City Council District will give me their support and contributions, not only spiritual, but physical, emotional, political and financial,” Diaz said.

Diaz is one of the more socially conservative members of the state Senate and is the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who is close with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and rumored to be a potential mayoral candidate.

In his statement, the elder Diaz touted his legislative work and the effort in Albany on behalf of his Senate district.

For that reason, and because of the multitude of community projects that I have been responsible for, such as: construction of low-income housing; repair of train stations; re-pavement of streets; Implementation of charter schools; services for senior citizens, immigrants, non-medallion taxi car drivers, and many more initiatives, I believe that the residents of the 32nd Senatorial District in Bronx County have been well represented during the past 15 years,” he said.

Earlier this year, Democrat Bill Perkins left his Senate seat after securing a seat on the city Council, which is increasingly stocked with former members of the Assembly and Senate.

Senate Gets Workers Comp Reform

From the Morning Memo:

Last year, business groups in Albany, for the most part, were not fans of the budget’s minimum wage increases hitting $15 and 12 weeks of paid family leave.

This year brought them some relief with a workers’ compensation reform plan that had been pushed by the Senate Republicans and survived into the final agreement, approved on Sunday by lawmakers.

The subject is a dense one, but key for business organizations, especially the Business Council, which had sought the legislation after the last package passed more than a decade ago.

The changes include an expedited hearing process, the capping classification of the maximum medical improvement at 2-1/2 years through the create of a credit to employers and a panel that will study independent medical examinations.

At the same time, there are changes to formulas for the prescription drug formulary and new medical impairment guidelines.

“These changes will create meaningful savings for all employers in the state,” the Business Council wrote in an email to its members this weekend.

Allowing ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City and infrastructure spending were also pushed by business groups, but workers’ compensation legislation was considered especially key for Senate Republicans this year, who agreed to an extension of the millionaires tax rate expiring at the end of the year as well as a college tuition plan backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We applaud the members of the Senate Republican Conference for championing these reforms and taking significant steps to ease the cost burden borne by every employer in the state – especially Upstate,” said Greg Biryla, the executive director of the Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate.

“More work remains to truly get New York’s third highest-in-the-nation costs under control. We must continue to work with our elected leaders to ensure we have an affordable system that continues to protect workers across New York.”