State Senate

Flanagan: ‘Everything Is Tied Together’

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Friday emerged from a closed-door meeting in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying “detailed” discussions were being held on issues such as raising the age of criminal responsibility.

“We are having true, legitimate, detailed policy-oriented discussions on that and other policy aspects of the budget,” Flanagan said after the meeting, which included Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Sen. Pat Gallivan.

Heastie has pushed for the provision, which raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in New York, to be included in the state budget agreement, expected to be finalized next week. Heastie wants the cases involving 16 and 17-year-old defendants moved to family court.

Gallivan is a key Republican lawmaker who has worked on the long-sought legislation.

But a deal on the measure remains elusive in part to Republican concerns over which crimes should be tried in family court, especially violent feloneis.

“We have diversity of opinions and demographics,” Flanagan said.

And, raising the possibility of a broader agreement in a budget package, Flanagan indicated measures were intersecting, as they tend to do in Albany during crunch time.

“Everything is tied together,” he said. “It’s not just one thing in isolation.”

Fighting For Children PAC Backs SD-30 Candidate

From the Morning Memo:

The political action committee that backs the passage of the Child Victims Act in the Legislature has endorsed Democrat Brian Benjamin in the 30th Senate district.

Benjamin is running in a special election to replace Bill Perkins in the chamber after his city Council election in May.

The special election is scheduled for May 23.

“We are proud to endorse candidates committed to reforming the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse to better protect the children of New York,” said Greene County businessman Gary Greenberg, founder of Fighting for Children.

“Brian Benjamin will be a great addition to New York’s Senate. His tireless commitment to families in Harlem and the Upper West Side prove he will be a strong ally in our efforts to protect all children from abuse.”

The PAC was formed as the Child Victims Act has struggled in the Legislature. The measure would make it easier for the survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

“I’m truly honored to have the support of Fighting for Children. Ensuring the long-term health and security of our community begins with providing resources for our children and protecting them from harm,” Benjamin said.

“That’s why I’m committed to stand with Fighting for Children in bringing lasting changes to our state’s statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes.”

Benjamin announced earlier this month he would join the mainline Democratic conference in the state Senate.

Felder Not Ruffled By Ortt Indictment

Sen. Simcha Felder has no plans to change sides should Sen. Robert Ortt lose his seat in the narrowly divided chamber.

Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who sits with the Republican conference in the chamber, gives them the needed 32nd vote to attain a working majority in the state Senate.

Ortt, a Republican from western New York, faces a three-count fraud indictment unsealed in Albany on Thursday. If Ortt is convicted on any of those counts, he is automatically removed from office.

But Felder insisted he believes both Ortt will have his legal troubles put behind him and has no plans to bolt the GOP conference.

“We live in the best country in the world, where people are assumed not guilty,” Felder said. “He will be vindicated and he will be back.”

Felder indicated he’s not looking at the Senate math at this point.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t believe in any parties. I’m not a religious believer in the Republican or the Democratic or any other party. I only believe in serving my constituents, period.”

As for if anything changes in the Senate member-wise, Felder insisted he wouldn’t do anything to hurt his Brooklyn constituents.

“If this dynamic exists, the only thing that makes sense for me is to remain with the Republicans and caucus with the Republicans,” he said. “Changing it in any way would mean I’m a masochist and I’m trying to hurt my constituents.”

Flanagan Says He’s Standing By Ortt

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Thursday said he is standing by Sen. Rob Ortt, who faces a three-count fraud charge stemming from his wife receiving a no-show job.

“Absolutely,” Flanagan said when asked if he’s sticking with the western New York lawmaker. “I believe in our system of jurisprudence and I have great faith in Rob Ortt.”

The Senate GOP has a narrow majority in the chamber with the inclusion of Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the conference and gives them 32 members in the chamber, a working majority.

Ortt defiantly on Thursday said he would not resign his seat, plans to fight the charges and blasted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s prosecution of the case.

Flanagan declined to say whether the case against Ortt is politically driven.

However, Flanagan praised Ortt’s work as a committee chair, his advocacy for those with disabilities and military service.

“I’m going to continue to work here with Rob,” Flanagan said. “The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I’m concerned about is getting the New York state budget done in a timely fashion.”

Maziarz Pleads Not Guilty To 5 Count Charge

Republican former Sen. George Maziarz pleaded not guilty on Thursday to five felony counts of filing a false instrument in a case related to the corruption case of his successor in Albany, Sen. Robert Ortt.

Ortt pleaded not guilty earlier in the day to three charges of filing a false instrument; he faces expulsion from the Senate if found guilty on any of them.

Ortt is accused of having his wife receive payments through a no-show job after his own pay as mayor of North Tonawanda in western New York was reduced by $5,000.

Maziarz, in an indictment unsealed in Albany County Court on Thursday, is accused of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara Conuty Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

Maziarz did not speak with reporters after the court appearance on Thursday. His attorney, Joe LaTona, insisted Maziarz would be vindicated.

Prosecutors say both the county GOP committee and the Maziarz campaign paid the former staffer $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 between 2013 and 2014.

The payments were concealed to avoid scrutiny through pass-through entities in filings with state Board of Elections.

Both Maziarz and Ortt used the same pass-through entity to allegedly conceal the payments.

“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence that their elected officials are serving them honestly and with transparency, said Risa Sugarman, Chief Enforcement Counsel for the New York State Board of Elections.

“The public has the right to know how their representatives spend the contributions they receive and that the disclosures are honest and accurate. We will continue to work together with the attorney general to assure New Yorkers that violations of the public trust do not go unpunished.”

Both Ortt and Maziarz are due back in court May 8.

Senate GOP Turns Their Focus To Workers Comp

Last year, Senate Republicans grudgingly accepted an increase in the state’s minimum wage and 12 weeks of paid family leave. This year, the Senate GOP signals they aren’t willing to make the same deal.

“Last year we gave away stuff,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader. “We increased the minimum wage. Whether that’s good or not, somebody has to pay for that stuff and whether it was good or not there was no corresponding relief to businesses.”

Senate Republicans on Wendesday called for long-sought reforms to the workers compensation system in New York, including efforts to create a more efficient hearing process.

“If we don’t do something fast, make sure the system is changed for workers comp, which is a big component for the cost of doing business, then we’re making a big mistake,” DeFrancisco said.

Opponents worry this would create a less generous safety net. But Republicans say it’s about making the state more business friendly, and are pushing to include the measure in a final budget agreement that is expected next week.

“This is part of the discussion and we had this in our one-house budget resolution, language in there to bring reform,” said Sen. George Amedore.

And the push stood in contrast to a press conference that occurred at the same time at the Capitol Wednesday in which Democratic lawmakers and New Yor City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed to increase taxes on the rich.

“It’s not government’s responsibility to create jobs,” said Sen. Fred Akshar. “It’s government’s responsibility to get out of the way so businesses can thrive and prosper and I think by reforming the workers’ compensation system we are providing that opportunity.”

Workers compensation reform last was approved in 2007 in New York and lawmakers say the changes were positive, but some, including the requirment for an annual report, were never followed through on.

Flanagan Says He Has ‘Skepticism’ Of Medicaid Takeover

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday said he is skeptical of the proposal on the federal level to have the state assume Medicaid costs currently carried by county governments.

The measure is backed by Reps. John Faso and Chris Collins and is potentially key to gaining enough votes for the passage of the House GOP’s bill replacing the Affordable Care Act this week.

But Flanagan, speaking with reporters this morning, said he would speak with Faso about the issue as the state prepares a budget plan due to pass at the end of next week.

“I have a certain amount of skepticism. I don’t want to see New York adversely affected and I would go back to some basic questions,” Flanagan said. “Does that mean counties have to go back and reduce their sales tax, reduce their property tax or will they go back and continue to spend. I’m not trying to malign anyone or any shape or form, but this is going to be a focal point of all of our discussions.”

Having the state assume the cost of the Medicaid program in New York is a major touchstone issue for county governments who have often complained about the cost of mandates placed on them by Albany.

The move would have wide-ranging effects on the state’s budget and finances. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has railed against the proposal, saying it would simply shift costs and devastate taxpayers.

Flanagan joined Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in suggesting the Legislature would return to Albany after the regular session is concluded to handle potential changes to health care policy on the federal level.

“It’s the same taxpayer at the end of the day,” Flanagan said. “We’ve done a lot of things on the state of new York to alleviate the burden on county property taxpayers in significantly shifting costs to the state of New York.”

Bill Would Require One SLA Member From NYC

From the Morning Memo:

A bill being introduced this week by Manhattan Sen. Brad Hoylman would require at least one member of the State Liquor Authority be a resident of New York City.

The measure is backed by Hoylman and Manhattan Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, drawing inspiration from the majority of the state’s 3,147 liquor licenses originating in New York City.

In a statement, Hoylman said he wanted to create a “more equitable system” of license distribution in the state, with New York City in mind.

“New York City is responsible for more than half of all the approved alcohol licenses granted across our state,” he said. “Given the overwhelming complexities of granting alcohol licenses in a way that meets the needs of establishments as well as the kaleidoscopic interests of five boroughs, 59 community districts, and hundreds of neighborhoods, New Yorkers deserve a seat at the table when these important decisions are being made.”

The bill comes after Hoylman wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking that he appoint a New York City resident to fill a vacancy on the SLA following the retirement of Commissioner Kevin Kim in August.

“Many neighborhoods have a significantly higher density of licensed premises than anywhere else in New York State, and a New York City resident on the SLA would help inform the regulations of the SLA within NYC so we can continue to promote livable communities,” Glick said.

Legislative Leaders Give Chilly Reception To Consolidation Plan

The leaders in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly on Monday indicated they would push to change Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to require local governments to develop ways of sharing services and scale back his efforts to expand his office’s powers over the state budget.

“I think that we are generally in agreement that there should be the prerogative of the Legislature over the Senate and Assembly and I think we have a number of disagreements with the executive over allowing too much power to go to his authority over the budget,” Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said.

Lawmakers met Monday afternoon for the start of the joint budget committee process — a meeting known in Albany as the “mothership” and initially held as a way of enhancing transparency in the opaque state budget process, but also a chance for lawmakers to lay out their public priorities in the talks.

While the Legislature has been loathe to surrender powers over making changes to the budget after its approved to Cuomo, the legislative leaders were also skeptical Cuomo’s consolidation plan would remain intact.

“It wasn’t in our one-house,” Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The governor maintains its one of his priorities. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not something that I’d say, at least in our conference, any of the members were too happy moving forward with that.”

The plan would require local governments to work with county officials to find ways of sharing services and consolidating costs with an effort of finding concrete ways of reducing property taxes. The plan would be considered by voters in a referendum this November.

Cuomo has long sought to consolidate and scale back the size of local governments in New York, which he has blamed for the state’s high property taxes — an assertion budget watchdogs say is more tied to the cost of programs like Medicaid or employee pensions.

At the same time, lawmakers contend Cuomo is dangling aid to municipalities over local governments to force the sharing of services — a claim the governor’s office denies.

“Local governments are just saying that’s not really an appropriate carrot or a stick and frankly they deserve that money and they do a lot of shared services now,” Flanagan said.

But Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein suggested there would be a compromise possible on the issue.

“If indeed there’s a way they can do these efficiencies and enjoy the benefit of the local level, I think that’s something we can discuss,” Klein said.

Hoosick Falls Residents Push Hannon To Release Contamination Documents

Hoosick Falls residents in a letter to Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon released Monday urged him to give them access to documents related to the drinking water contamination in their community.

“Now we need your help to learn more about how our communities became polluted,” the eight residents wrote in the letter. “As you are aware, we have had to deal with misleading information and a complete lack of transparency when all we have wanted is basic information pertinent to our health and safety.”

The letter itself was released by the Environmental Advocates of New York.

In the letter, the Hoosick Falls residents thank Hannon for his push on Drinking Water Quality Institute and the Senate Republican-backed effort for a clean water bond act.

But they also want Hannon, the Senate Health Committee chairman, to go further and release the information gained by lawmakers when reviewing the PFOA contamination in the village, which has been blamed on Honeywell and Saint Gobain facilities.

“While we are discouraged that requests for this information have been ignored by the Senate, we have no reason to believe that you wish to continue this troubling trend by withholding information crucial to the health of our families and overall community,” the residents wrote.

Hannon Letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd