State Senate

Bill Would Provide Benefits To Those Wrongfully Convicted

A bill proposed by two Democratic state lawmakers would provide a package of benefits to those who are wrongfully convicted.

The proposal comes amid increasing public awareness of questionable convictions through popular true crime stories from the Serial podcast and Netflix’s docudrama Making A Murderer.

The bill, backed by Assemblyamn Dan Quart and Sen. Brad Hoylan, would apply to those who are incarcerated in a state prison and later exonerated.

They would have their convictions permanently sealed and receive benefits to help them start their lives over again, including lifetime health, mental health and dental insurance as well as reimbursement for attorney fees.

”The state has no more serious responsibility than correcting its own errors,” Quart said in a statement. “A wrongful conviction can’t ever be undone, but New York has a duty to ensure that exonerees are made whole as completely as possible. The wrongfully convicted should be able to access the same services as other parolees, in addition to job training and health and mental health care as they start their lives over.”

The bill comes after a record 149 people across the country were exonerated in 2015, with New York alone representing more than 10 percent of those overall cases.

“Wrongful conviction is a miscarriage of justice in the truest sense,” Hoylman said. “Incarceration exacts a physical and psychological toll that can be compounded when someone is imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. While we can never truly return the time stolen from the wrongfully convicted, New York has a moral obligation to help those for whom the criminal justice system has failed.”

Flanagan: Senate Looking For ‘Accurate’ Minimum Wage Data

From the Morning Memo:

Increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 remains under review, with Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan insisting he’s trying to find “accurate information” to assess the proposal’s impact.

“One of the things we’ve grappled with is trying to get accurate information,” Flanagan told reporters after a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t want to distort anything.”

The wage proposal is part of a key push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic state lawmakers and a coalition of unions and aligned groups in this legislative session.

Senate Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the chamber, have not ruled a wage increase at some point in this legislative session, but at the same time are leery of the proposal’s impact on business.

GOP lawmakers have often counted the business community as their main allies in Albany, which has in turn pushed back against the $15 wage proposal, saying it could cost up to $15 billion once fully phased in.

Meanwhile, Flanagan pointed out varying groups have different figures: hospital associations peg the full cost at $2 billion, while 1199 SEIU believe it more closer to $1 billion.

“There’s a great dispartiy right there,” Flanagan said. “We’re in the process of trying to get that information.”

Republicans have questioned the wage hike in several legislative hearings, including discussions on the state budget.

Cuomo last year moved to increase the minimum wage — currently $9 in New York — for fast-food workers and state and SUNY employees to $15 over the next several years.

Klein: Deal Possible On Paid Family Leave

From the Morning Memo:

As state lawmakers search for a compromise on creating a paid-family leave program in New York, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in an interview said Republican lawmakers in the Senate are supportive of the “concept” of the measure.

Klein, a Bronx Democrat, introduced a new iteration of the paid-family leave legislation in New York that he says won’t hurt businesses, provide a more generous benefit to workers once fully phased in and could find some support among GOP lawmakers.

“I think many of my Republican colleagues, including the majority leader John Flanagan, have been very, very supportive of the concept of paid family leave,” Klein said.

“I know they were very concerned of putting a burden on business. Clearly my legislation does not do that. So I’m hopeful we can come together and fashion a bill in the Senate and get agreement with the Assembly.”

Klein’s measure is designed to cost up to about 20 cents a week for a worker in order to pay for the program, which would provide up to 12 weeks of coverage.

The measure does not expand the temporary disability insurance fund, a method favored by Assembly Democrats in order to pay for their paid family leave bill, which the chamber has already approved.

Klein said he favors increasing the TDI, just not in conjunction with paid leave.

“It needs to be increased, but if we do that, it will be a burden and a pretty significant one on the employer,” Klein said. “So I think we need to take a balanced approach. I want to see paid family leave done this year and I’d like to see a time when we can revisit the TDI and increase those benefits as well.”

Senate Republicans Push Help For Farmers

A package of measures designed to boost the state’s agriculture sector was pushed for by Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, with eye toward adding funding to support technological innovation and improve farmers’ bottom lines.

The measures include restore cuts proposed for 42 farm-related programs, which Senate lawmakers called the deepest cuts made to agriculture-related programs in the last five years.

At the same time, lawmakers are calling for increasing the phase-in timetable for overhauling the estate tax that was first enacted in 2014. The farmer personal income tax credit exemption, too, would be aimed at lowering taxes on family farmers by increasing the personal income tax exemption for small and mid-sized operations.

The package also calls for restoring spending cuts to programs that support Cornell University’s agriculture-related research as well as increase fund for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“New York farms—and New York farmers—are the backbone of our rural communities and economies,” said Sen. Patty Ritchie, the chairwoman of the chamber’s agriculture committee. “That’s why, once again, the Senate Majority Conference is making agriculture a top priority. We’re planting seeds to support the hard work of our farm families and grow the future of agriculture in New York State.”

In addition, the Senate Republicans are backing an effort to create new funding for a Cornell’s Small Farms Program that create five veteran-owned farms in a pilot program.

The proposals come as the state Farm Bureau is pushing back against a proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15, which the organization says once fully phased in would cost billions in added expenses.

“The Farm Bureau has come up with some detailed information about what the effects would be,” said John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader. “Those are things we need to pay attention to.”

Flanagan: Banning Outside Income Not A Priority For Voters

Banning or limiting outside income is not a top-shelf issue for constituents, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday said.

Flanagan disagreed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s claim made on Monday that public pressure will lead to state lawmakers to backing new ethics legislation that includes limiting outside income to 15 percent of a legislator’s base salary, currently $79,500.

Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said the real issue for most New Yorkers he has spoken to is jobs.

“The God’s honest truth is the most important thing I hear about from people is jobs,” Flanagan said. “They want economic development. They want the chance to have a good economic opportunity for them and their families, keep their kids here in the state of New York.”

As for limiting outside income?

“It is way at the bottom of the priority list,” Flanagan said. “Maybe other legislators are hearing it differently.”

A Siena College this week found most voters support curtailing outside income, 59 percent to 35 percent. But at the same time, most voters list pocketbook-related matters as top issues for state government: 44 percent believe education should be the top issue, followed by taxes at 39 percent and jobs at 31 percent.

As for applying public pressure, Flanagan shrugged that concern off.

“There are opportunities to get pressured on all kinds of issues,” Flanagan said. “If that’s going to come from public pressure, so be it. I think we have rational arguments why it’s not a good idea.”

Cuomo introduced the outside income measure in his State of the State last month after both legislative leaders were ousted from office following convictions on corruption charges.

Nassau County PBA Backs McGrath In SD-9

The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association endorsed on Tuesday Republican Chris McGrath to take the Senate seat formerly held by disgraced ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Both McGrath and Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky are running for the Senate seat in Nassau County in an April 19 special election.

In a statement, McGrath cited his own pro bono work helping secure coverage for first responders with health complications stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I am deeply honored and proud to receive the endorsement of the Nassau County PBA,” McGrath, an attorney and first-time candidate, said in a statement. “As someone who has worked closely with the brave men and women who put their life on the line by protecting us every day, and who worked tirelessly after the tragedy of 9/11, I am humbled by their endorsement and their confidence in me to represent our communities in the State Senate.”

The Nassau County PBA represents more than 5,000 active and retired members.

Christopher McGrath by Nick Reisman

Marchione Considering Hearings On Hoosick Falls Water

Sen. Kathy Marchione said Tuesday in radio interview she would consider holding hearings on the drinking contamination in Hoosick Falls.

The hearings could stem in part to determine how much state regulators knew about the contamination of drinking water of the chemical PFOA and when the state knew it.

“We will discuss that because whether the state didn’t move quick enough or whether they thought they moved fast enough,” Marchione said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “Sometimes you have to hear from the other perspective why they moved slowly, when did they actually know?”

State officials have defended not taking action sooner in the area, which they learned about a possible contamination in December 2014, with more tests beginning in July 2015.

Last month, state and federal regulators warned residents not to use the water in the Rensselaer County community and the Department of Environmental Conservation has moved to make it a state Superfund site.

The contamination is believed to have come from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, a company that owns a nearby manufacturing plant, and is the focus of the source of the contamination.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday told reporters that while he understands the concerns of residents, he also insisted the state’s deliberate approach to the contamination wasn’t meant to be any less aggressive.

“Fear is powerful and fear of what if, what if, what if — that starts the cascade and that’s not especially helpful, so let’s get the facts first,” Cuomo told reporters.

Marchione, in the interview, partially agreed with Cuomo’s assessment that more information is needed.

“They’re worried about their children, they’re worried about their own health, I think their fears are real,” she said. “I also agree with the governor we need to do the analysis to determine what exactly we have here.”

Meanwhile, Marchione suggested a more comprehensive approach is needed for assessing the risks of chemicals like PFOA, which had not been restricted by the state until last month.

“I don’t think they knew what to do. When the state hasn’t regulated the chemical, how do you know what you do?” Marchione said. “If it’s not on the regulation list, how can you go forward and fix something that no one has told you is broken?”

Flanagan, At NYCOM, Avoids Bharara

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb told the New York Conference of Mayors that ethics reform needs to be a top priority in the Legislature this session.

Ditto for the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who said the parade of corruption scandals was causing people to lose faith in the state.

But the representatives of the legislative majorities in Albany chose not to address ethics concerns when speaking before U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara at the group’s winter meeting in Albany on Monday.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, representing the Democratic conference in the Assembly, stood in for Speaker Carl Heastie.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan bolted from the room after addressing the group to discuss local government issues and the state’s property tax cap.

“He’s making a lot of speeches all over the place and this should be no different,” Flanagan said when asked about Bharara’s presence in Albany.

As reporters pursued Flanagan up a winding flight of stairs at the Albany Hilton, the Suffolk County lawmaker was asked about whether he believed Bharara’s corruptioncase against his predecessor, Dean Skelos, was justified.

Flanagan responded: “I have faith in the court system and I’m guided by that all the time.”

He didn’t address additional questions when asked about whether ethics legislation should be in the budget.

Tax Cap Changes Unlikely, Flanagan Says

Changes to the state’s cap on property tax increases are unlikely this year, even as Senate Republicans disagree internally over whether to continue the measure as it stands now, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Monday told mayors at a convention in Albany.

“I would be surprised if there were any changes to the tax cap, certainly this year,” Flanagan said.

The comments come after Democratic lawmakers here at the New York Conference of Mayors winter meeting told local government officials they were sympathetic to the increasing concerns being raised over the cap on property tax levy increases.

The cap is due to provide for an increase of less than 1 percent this year, squeezing local governments on their ability to raise revenue at a time in which sales tax dollars have been largely flat.

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo did agree to modest changes to the tax cap last June, allowing for growth in BOCES and capital spending.

But local government and school district officials have called for revisions to the cap, given it is linked to the rate of inflation or provides for a 2 percent cap, whichever is lower.

The cap in recent years has allowed for growth of less than 2 percent and, with inflation flat again, the cap is due to be virtually zero.

In his remarks, Flanagan noted the cap remains popular with taxpayers who live under the highest property taxes in the nation.

Nevertheless, Flanagan noted there were some lawmakers within his conference that were sympathetic to altering the cap.

“We have some members,” Flanagan said, “who feel it should be a straight 2 percent.”

Flanagan bolted from the room after addressing the conference for about 20 minutes in remarks and taking several questions. He left the Albany Hilton just before the arrival of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office successfully prosecuted the case against his predecessor, Republican Dean Skelos as well as former Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan.

Flanagan told reporters without stopping that he had several meetings to attend later in the day.

SD-9 Shaping Up To Be A Clash Of Titans

From the Morning Memo:

The battle for the Long Island Senate seat that once belonged to ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos is officially joined, with both sides settling on a candidate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling a special election on April 19 to coincide with New York’s presidential primaries.

With these formalities out of the way, the Democrats and Republicans have retreated to their respective corners to plot their respective campaign plans, and with so much on the table – this race is widely viewed as crucial in the fight for the majority – they’re bringing in the big guns and plan to spare no expense.

On the GOP side, political newcomer Chris McGrath’s campaign will be run by E. O’Brien Murray, better known to insiders as “O.B.”

Murray has considerable experience working on a variety of Senate and congressional campaigns. Interestingly, he has been working for several years now as an adviser/strategist for another Long Island Republican, Sen. Jack Martins, who is putting the GOP conference in something of a bind by opting to run for retiring Democratic Rep. Steve Israel’s seat in NY-3.

The GOP has also called again on BrabenderCox, which has done media/strategy for a number of national Republican candidates and also cut effective TV ads in the last campaign cycle for key GOP Senate candidates (who are now freshmen members in need of defense): Rich Funke and George Amedore.

The Republicans opted for McGrath, a trial attorney with no strong political ties to either Skelos or the Nassau County GOP, specifically because he can’t be painted as an insider, though he has given a considerable amount of campaign cash out over the years to both Democrats and Republicans – a fact that has given some on the right pause.

The GOP is already laying out its argument against the Democrats’ candidate, Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who is making ethics and reform a hallmark of his campaign, given the recent history of this seat.

Basically, the Republicans are going to try to tie Kaminsky to disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who, like Skelos, went down in flames due to a federal corruption conviction; and slam him for not voting “yes” on a hostile Assembly minority amendment on pension forfeiture – among other issues.

On the Democratic side, a source familiar with the Kaminsky campaign called it an “all hands on deck” effort, with a wide variety of consultants and operatives involved. Officially speaking, the campaign is being managed by Rich Orsillo, who also worked on Kaminsky’s 2014 Assembly bid.

The DSCC and its preferred consulting firm, Queen-based Parkside, is also heavily involved, as is Evan Thies, who served as a spokesman for Kaminsky’s 2014 campaign.

Global Strategy Group will be doing the polling, and ad man Jimmy Siegel, best known (to NY reporters, anyway) as making his political debut on then-AG Eliot Spitzer’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, will be doing the TV.

The Democrats are prepared to spend in the neighborhood of $2 million, all told, according to this source.

And if the Republicans make a similar commitment, this very well could go down as one of the most – if not THE most – expensive special elections in New York history, rivaling the 2007 special election in which now former Democratic Sen. Craig Johnson bested Republican Maureen O’Connell, in which a combined $5 million was spent by the two sides.